The Muscogee Way
By Fus Fixico
Table of Contents
2. Florida Creek Indian Ceremonial Grounds in the Twentieth Century…..20
3. Old Apalachicola Tribal Town and its Place in the Creek Confederacy..26
8. A Brief Description of an Ascension Ceremony ……………………………81
9. Stories of the Apalachicola People ………………………………….92
10. Articles about the Apalachicola People………………………………….113
Those Who Remain
The Eastern Creeks and their ancient southeastern ceremonial tradition remain a viable entity today, despite being little known outside of their communities. Although known in their home area by many of the older generation, their existence is a surprise to many others. Times always change. So do people and their culture—so did the Creek people who remained in the south after the removal of most of the large Indian Nations to the Indian Territory west of the Mississippi. Most persons with some knowledge of Creek and Seminole Indian history know of the Green Corn Dance ceremony still held by a small “traditional” core among these tribes, a tradition whose roots stretch back thousands of years into the ancient world of the pre-Columbian past. Fewer people are familiar with dozens of other populations of southeastern Indian people who have maintained practices born of the same ceremonial tradition. Even in the “strongholds” of southeastern Indian communities in the Muscogee Creek Nation, there have been large shifts in the practice of the Muscogee traditions even within the last 100 years. Some of the reasons that today’s ceremonial practice is as it is traced to events dating back hundreds of years.
Even before the removal of the “Five Tribes”, the Creek, Seminole, Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw Nations to Indian Territory in the 1830’s, there was a steady adoption of European values and life ways by some Creeks, and eventually internal divisions led to the Creek Civil War. Lower Creek towns located on the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers were located much closer to the American colonial settlements and many towns were greatly influenced by American culture. Dozens of Mixed blood families were created by the marriages of the daughters and nieces of Creek leaders to influential European Traders who set up shop in the Creek Nation. The Upper Creek Towns were located on the rivers of what would one day be central Alabama were less accommodating to European forays into Creek concerns and lands. Caught up in the international intrigues between the various European powers attempts to gain control of the ever-changing frontier, the Creek Nation was weakened by internal strife and was easy pickings for an invading American army. At the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, the Indians military forces were soundly defeated, and hopes for the Creek Nation’s people remaining in their homeland was dashed.
By 1840 tens of thousands of Creeks had been removed to the west or had retreated into Florida, where they would continue the fight against the expanding America as part of the Seminole, which was formed from the remnants of a dozen earlier peoples as well as Creeks determined to not be removed from their beloved southeastern homeland. Joining the Creek-speaking Seminole in their resistance to American expansion were several bands of Hitchiti-speaking Miccosukee, a related people. As the conflicts with the Florida Seminole increased, the frontlines of conflict moved deeper and deeper down the Florida peninsula. In the wake of the defeat of the Creek Nation a treaty was forged called the Treaty of Fort Jackson, signed on August 9th, 1814. One outcome of this treaty was arrangements for certain families of Creeks to be allowed to remain behind and these warriors and their families were given land grants which they were granted with the understanding that they could remain as American citizens or sell their allotment and move west. Nimrod Doyle, an ancestor of some of the Kunfuskee Ceremonial Grounds families, was a party to this treaty and received an allotment, as did dozens of Creeks who were ancestors of the Poarch Creeks in the Atmore area.
From the 1830’s until the Civil War, many of the Creek families who remained behind lived lives closely associated with the culture of the times lived by average southerners, many farming some working turpentine, coastal fishing, or subsistence hunting. During this same period large numbers of Cheraw Indians were migrating into the panhandle of Florida from North and South Carolina. Intermarriage between Creeks and Cheraw was common. Over a third of the founding ancestors of the modern Poarch Creek population in south Alabama and Escambia County, Florida were Carolina Cheraw who married into the remnant Creek population. As Poarch Creek Indian researchers, Lou Vickery and Steve Travis state in their book released in 2009 entitled; Rise of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians ,
“It is noteworthy that the Sizemores, Gibsons, Hollingers, Durant, and Marlows, were all mixed-blood lines that came to southwest Alabama from South Carolina. Most were mixed-bloods from the Catawba or Lumbee tribes.”-pg.144
“The McGhee and Rolin families, along with the Moniacs, Gibsons, and Ehlerts, were the genetic founders of the contemporary Poarch Band of Creek Indians.”-pg.147
“Along with the Dees family, the Hathcocks migrated from South Carolina to the Poarch area where they intermarried with the Poarch Creeks.”-pg.154
“ the Hathcocks were originally not Creek Indians. Like the Dees and Gibson familes, the Hathcocks came from the South Carolina area, they were a mixture of Portuguese and Native American, who intermarried with Lumbee Indians”-pg.161
“William David Bart Gibson was born about 1823 in South Carolina, arriving in Alabama in the early 1840’s.”-pg.154
“Listed as a half Creek Indian, (Arthur) Sizemore probably had some Catawba/Lumbee bloodlines”-pg. 155
With the upheaval of the social order after the civil war, most non-white persons in the south were dispossessed of any social standing they may have had, as individuals and as communities, and remnant Indian and mixed-blood groups across the south retreated into themselves, isolating socially and culturally, protecting themselves by having as little contact with outsiders as possible. This was the situation for almost all the tribal groups remaining in the south. Community ceremonial traditions continued in the privacy of the Indian community, often times unknown to outsiders. Due to participation in the military after World War I, there was a slow thaw, a growing awareness of self-determination and social opportunity that would reach its full flower in the 1960’s and 70’s when dozens of tribes across the south would struggle for and many achieve state and federal recognition.
With the advent of World War II the changes to the social structure of Indian communities, as with all parts of the United States, would increase exponentially as more Indian people became a part of the American mainstream. Many would leave behind their communities to find better opportunities in other areas. These changes impacted all Indian communities similarly with a loss of many social institutions and traditions which had with stood many past assaults. Even among the tens of thousands of Creek and Seminole in Oklahoma there was a great turning away from the old ways and life in isolated rural communities far from population centers for a better life in the outside world. Until World War II the Tvlwv Rakko Apalachicola and other Hecetv-speaking Tribal Towns in Creek Nation in Oklahoma maintained their squares and their yearly Green Corn Dance, but in the years after the war, many of the people moved away and slowly the ceremonial grounds of the original “Lower Creeks”, few to start with, disappeared completely from the ceremonial life of the Creek People.
One of the last of these Lower Creek stomp grounds in Oklahoma to shut-down their ceremonial cycle was the Tvlwv Rakko Apalachicola Tribal Town. Appearing on Creek Rolls in 1912 with a few hundred people, the population of Tvlwv Rakko continued to decline in the early years of the 1900’s, an occurrence which would signal the decline of traditional Creek ways of life among many of the Creek citizens of the emerging state of Oklahoma, and an adaption to modernity and the wage economy of the area. Due to the loss of the Creek Nation’s government and land base with the arrival of Oklahoma statehood, many Creeks ties to traditional life ways began to disintegrate and many slowly assimilated to life in the American mainstream culture. Tvlwv Rakko Apalachicola would hold their last Green Corn in 1949, according to the oral history of the late “Grandpa” Bill Sampson of Okmulgee. He was the grandson of George W. Hill, a member of Tvlwv Rakko Apalachicola and Chief of the Muscogee Creek Nation in the 1920’s.
Though registered on his Creek Nation Enrollment Roll Card as a member of Osoche Tribal Town (itself the Tribal Town of the Florida Calusa remnant who had migrated west in the 1830’s with the Creeks), George Wesley Hill attended Busk at Tvlwv Rakko Apalachicola, and had taken his grandson Bill with him several times. In Florida as in Oklahoma, the Hill family has been important in maintaining important tribal community ties. The difficult journey for the Apalachicola people from the days of the powerful and intact Creek Nation of the late 1700’s to the marginal and poverty-stricken way of life of the 1800’s under the Jim Crow social order, to the modern struggle of the several splintered communities to maintain cultural and tribal integrity in the twenty first century has been a constant challenge. Here I trace the journey of one Eastern Creek family from their origins in the lower Creek Towns to the current Apalachicola River community of Blountstown. There are dozens of large Eastern Creek Families much like the Hill family, with branches throughout the lower south, some more Indian, some less so. Some have been practicing ceremonial ground members for generations; others have no knowledge of the original Creek traditions.
The Hill Family
Members of the Hill family have been very active in the ceremonial traditions of the Indian community for generations along the river communities in Florida. Descendants of this family have moved to other areas throughout the two hundred years since leaving their homelands in what is today South Carolina. One of these family members was George W Hill. As stated, George W. Hill had migrated to the Creek Nation in the 1880’s from Jackson County, Florida where he was born, the last child born to Nancy Doyle Hill, a citizen of Creek Nation who remained behind after the removal in 1830. Married to a soldier from South Carolina, named George Hill, she chose to stay behind with her husband as did her sister Sarah, who was married to George’s brother, Alexander Hill. These girls were the nieces of the Creek leader, Nimrod Doyle. In the era of the Creek wars he and other half-blood Creeks such as John Ward, Christian Limbo, and others would play crucial roles in the developing political drama. This excerpt from “Woodward’s reminiscences” speaks of the roll of many of today’s Eastern Creek communities ancestors in the tumultuous events of that time.
“I (Thomas J. Woodward) became acquainted with an Indian countryman by the name of John Ward; and the first time I ever visited the Creek agency, which was then on Flint river, was in company with Ward, an old uncle of mine and one Andrew McDougald. Col. was then holding a council with some chiefs from various parts of the nation. I met with Ward occasionally from that time until the war commenced. When Gen. Floyd moved his troops to Flint River, Ward was the interpreter for the officer that was in command at Fort Manning. He then came into Gen. Floyd's camp, and remained with the army until it reached the Chattahoochee, and commenced building Fort Mitchell.
He was often sent out with Nimrod Doyle as a spy. Christian Limbo, John Ward, Bob Walton and Nimrod Doyle saw Tecumseh at the Tallassee Square, opposite Tuckabatchy, and the reason why they were permitted to see him, was, that Walton and Doyle had known him in his younger days...
There was also an Indian countryman along by the name of Bob Moseley. Moseley's wife was the niece of Peter McQueen. Ward's wife was a relation of Daniel McDonald, more generally known to the whites as Daniel McGillivray, and both of their wives were then with the hostile Indians. Ward and Moseley seemed willing to risk any and everything to forward the movement of the army, in order to reach the neighborhood of their families. There was a detachment of soldiers sent out to Uchee creek, to throw up a breast-work. I was one of the party, and among the rest was a Baptist preacher by the name of Elisha Moseley, a very sensible and most excellent man at that, as grave as men ever get to be; for he could pray all night and fight all day, or pray all day and fight all night, just as it came to his turn to do either; and this preacher was a brother to Bob Moseley, the Indian countryman. While at this breast-work, one night, by a campfire, I listened to Elijah Moseley inquiring into his brother's motives for leaving a white family and making his home among a tribe of savages. Bob's reply was, as well as I now recollect, that there was no false swearing among Indians. The preacher then commenced making some enquiry into Ward's history. Ward informed him that his father had taken him into the Creek Nation near where Oweatumka or Wetumpka now stands, when he (Ward) was a child, and shortly after died. He recollected very little of his father; that he had been raised by Daniel McDonald, or McGillivray, as he was commonly called; that he heard McDonald say that his father was a Georgian, and had left a wife and children in that State. Ward's history, as far as it went, soon became known in the camp. and some one in the camp, that had heard of Ward's father quitting his family and disappearing with one of his children, and knowing something of the Wards in Georgia, looked at John Ward and said, from the near resemblance of him and a Georgia Ward, they must be brothers.
The Georgia brother was written to, and in a few weeks, made his appearance in camp. In this time, the Indian Ward, from exposure, had fallen sick, and was very low. The Georgia brother came into camp one night, and the next morning John Ward was a corpse--though John was perfectly rational on the arrival of his brother and, before he died, knew who he was. They proved to be twin brothers. A very intimate acquaintance of your messed with me at the time, and Ward frequently messed with us. It was Capt. Arnold Seals, of Macon County, Ala. Ward died in one of the tents of Adams' riflemen, and Elijah Moseley was his nurse. The most feeling pulpit talk I ever heard dropped from the lips of Elijah Moseley, in a soldiers's tent, on the death of John Ward. John, though raised among Indians, spoke our language very well. He was enrolled among the Tuskegees. He was a floater, under the treaty, but by the permission of Col. Albert Nat. Collins, of Macon county, and myself, he located him a tract in the fork of Coosa and Tallapoosa. I think he sold to Col. George Taylor. The Indian countryman, John Ward, died in 1813. His remains rest on the hill just above old Fort Mitchell...”
The three young soldiers, George Robert Wesley, James Jr., and Alexander, joined the American Army in 1828. Nearby the Hill boys’ duty station of Fort Mitchell, Creek Nation was a school for Indian Girls called the Asbury Missionary Institute, which the Hill family was already involved with. The “Reverend Mister Hill”, a relative of the boys, performed hundreds of marriages on this frontier during his time there. Eventually, George and Alexander left the area. They first moved first to Decatur County, Georgia and then on to Jackson County Florida, along with their Indian wives, Nancy and Sarah Doyle. Upon researching the oral histories passed through the various Hill family branches in Florida, as well as those in the Creek Nation in Oklahoma, there were found indicators of where to search for the records relating to the families origins. Amanda who is found in the records was the daughter of Nimrod Doyle, and Nancy and Sarah were his nieces, and most likely daughters of Edmond Doyle, a Creek Nation trader with the Leslie, Panton, and Forbes Trading Company. Though Nancy and Sarah would move to Florida with their husbands, Amanda would remarry several times after James early death and eventually settle in Creek Nation in Indian Territory along with her son. She and her son are buried in Eufaula, Oklahoma.
In the records relating to the origins of our people was found a South Carolina Marriage Index Book at the Florida State Archives in the Capital Building Complex in Tallahassee Florida (the R. A. Gray Building) which listed an indexed reference to the marriages of these three couples. It seems from the documentary evidence that the Cherokee Phoenix, the national newspaper of the Cherokee Nation, as well as four other local Milledgeville, Georgia area newspapers, covered the weddings. It was said to be very extravagant for the times, according the article. Fort Mitchell was located on the frontier near where Creek Nation, Cherokee Nation, Georgia, and South Carolina met. Using the Index reference as a guide, we began to inquire about the possibility of one of the original newspapers which carried the article possibly being still in existence.
We were eventually able to secure a copy of it with the (much appreciated) assistance of the research staff at the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma’s Tribal Headquarters in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Included in this chapter is the letter sent with document. We also were able to gather several documents that were compiled by the Decatur County Georgia Historical Society, documents that listed all the descendants’ of the George Hill- Nancy Doyle and Alexander Hill-Sarah Doyle marriages, which were many. As recorded in “Millidgeville, Georgia Newspaper Clippings (Southern Recorder), Volume II 1828-1832” by Tad Evans, found in the stacks of the Florida state Archives, (as well 5 other periodic sources from the times, including an April 29 1829 edition (Volume 2 number 7) of the Cherokee Phoenix,) on March 3 1829 the brothers Alexander, George, and James Hill, all brothers from Darlington District in South Carolina and stationed at Fort Mitchell, Creek Nation were married by the Reverend Mr. Hill, to Sarah, Nancy, and Amanda Doyle, Creek Indian girls attending the Asbury Missionary Institute. The details of this marriage were captured in the Cherokee Phoenix article from 1829:
“Married on the 3rd of March, at the Asbury Missionary Institute, near Fort Mitchell Creek Nation, by the reverend Mr. Hill, the Mr. James Hill of the US Army, to Miss Amanda Doyle, a Creek Pupil of the Institution. This establishment is under the charge of Mr. and Mrs. Hill, who were desirous of showing the natives how this ceremony is performed in a refined state of society, and the highest encomiums are due them for their entire success. Great exertion and ingenuity were necessary to accomplish it. The company consisted of about twenty white persons and one hundred and fifty natives.
The bride and her two maids were dressed with great taste and propriety, according to the fashion of the age. The groom and his two associated were in full military costume; and those persons present accustomed to wedding scenes, pronounced this bridal party one of the handsomest they had ever witnessed. After the marriage ceremony, the happy pair were congratulated with all good wishes; cake and wine were passed around, and in due time a bountiful supper was partaken of by the whole company, and the evening passed on in the most agreeable manner possible. All parties seemed delighted with the occasion. A number of strangers present will never forget the kind and hospitable reception given them by Mr. and Mrs. Hill.-Georgia Courier”
-transcribed from the Cherokee Phoenix 1829 article, which was printed in English and Cherokee
The indexed reference in the Millidgeville, Georgia Newspaper Clippings (Southern Recorder), Volume II 1828-1832” states:
“HILL, Mr. James of the US Army m. DOYLE, Miss Amanda, a Creek pupil of the Asbury Missionary Institution near Fort Mitchell Creek Nation, m. there 3-3-1829 by Rev. Mr. Hill. AC 3-18-1829; CP 4-29-1829; A th 4-7-1929; SP 3-21-1829; SR 4-21-1829. DG 4-19-1829 gives wedding date as 4-3-1829”
“HILL, Alexander of the US Army m. DOYLE, Miss Sarah, a belle of the Creek Nation, m. there 3-3-1829 State of Georgia CP 4-29-1829”
“HILL, George W. of the US Army m. DOYLE, Miss Nancy, a belle of the Creek Nation, m. there 3-3-1829 State of Georgia CP 4-29-1829”
The following is a transcription of the “Alexander Hill” narrative, by Robert Earl Woodham, from the “Decatur County, Ga. Past and Present 1823-1991” a genealogy index compiled by the Decatur County Historical Society.
“The Hill Family has been in Seminole County since the 1830’s. Several related Hill families moved to Spring Creek and nearby areas across the river in Jackson County (Florida). They came here from Darlington District, South Carolina.
The first to settle here was Alexander hill Sr., who was born in 1812 and died in 1880. His wife’s name is Unknown. She was the sister of the wife of his brother, George W Hill. Alexander had 7 children, all born at Spring Creek.
Alex’s son Ferdinand Hill was born in 1839 and died 6 May 1864 as a confederate soldier at the Battle of the Wilderness near Richmond VA.
Alex’s daughters Lovie and Mahalia Caroline never married. Nothing is known of sons William and Richmond.
Alex’s son Harmon Hill (1849) married Julia R. Minton 15 February 1877. Their children include Ella, Noah Lonzo, Emma, Luther D, Zenie, Jewel, and Meck (married to Cleveland Conyers)
Alexander Hill Jr. was born 1852 and died 1923. He and his wife Mary Ann (1852-1921) are both buried at Spring Creek. They had at least nine children: Marcus M. (1875-1904) married Mary Hall; Sophia Ann (1881), married Tully Murkison; Mathew D.; Rufus A. who married first Rhoda M.J. Thursby, and later to Annie Wilson; Mary; Preston Ulysses (1889-1964) who married first Corene Holt, then later Kate Shores; Alto E, who married James K Braswell; Alma S. (1893-1952) married to Joe Barber; and John C.
Alexander’s brother, George Wesley Hill Sr. was born in 1804 in Darlington District South Carolina. His wife Nancy was the sister of Alexander’s wife, making the two couples (descendents) double first cousins.
George moved from South Carolina to Spring Creek (Georgia) about 1856. He lived for several years at the intersection of Desser Road and Spring Creek Road. Nancy (born 1815) died about 1856 and is buried in a family plot at the intersection. They had at least 13 children.
George’s son John A Hill was born in 1835; He married Mary Ann Dowell on 22 June 1852. He was a confederate soldier.
George’s son Rueben Ezekiel Hill was born in 1836, he married Martha Frances Minton on 7 September 1865, and they had one daughter Rebecca.
George’s son Thomas was born in 1838 and died on 12 November 1864 as a confederate soldier in a Yankee POW camp.
George’s daughter Emma Elizabeth (1840) married Daniel Minton.
George’s son Allen Hill (1842) married Amelia Conyers on 27 February 1868. They had one son, Asberry.
George’s daughter Julia Hill (1844) married Waydon Hewitt.
A son, Dempsey Hill (1845) married Catherine McMillan on 18 August 1870. He lived in Jackson County (Florida)
A son, Johnathan H. Hill was born 2 February 1848 and died 18 October 1918. He married Nancy Melvina Summers; they had at least 14 children and lived at Grand Ridge (Jackson County, Florida)
William Cato (“Cate”) Hill (1853) married Caroline Bennett in 1872. Cate and Carrie had seven children and lived at Grand Ridge.
Susan Catherine Hill was born 24 December 1853 and died 29 August 1931. She was married to Moses F.J. Conyers.
George W Hill (1856) married first Caroline Conyers 2 February 1872. They had 2 children, James Wesley and Martha.”
The generation’s long saga of the intermarriages among the above mentioned families and the other Indian families of the area that would be the nucleus of several remnant Indian settlements in the Apalachicola River area of the panhandle of Florida. The history of Indians in north Florida today is a complex one. I am including copies of the documents that have been gathered about the Hill family as an example of the tribal origins of some of the Indians of north Florida. The majority of the remnant families are of predominantly Catawba and Lumbee (Cheraw-Siouan) stock, with some, like the Hills, Turners, and many others from the towns of the Lower Creeks that were formerly located in the part of the Old Creek Nation that would become Georgia after the removal.
This small take on the Hill family is by no means nearly comprehensive or inclusive of the entirety of this branch of the Hill family, and their experience since the loss of the Old Creek Nation. Among other records relating to this family there is a copy of the roll of Thlekatchka (Broken Arrow) Tribal Town of the Creek Nation that lists Nimrod, Jackson, and Muscogee “Doyell” as dwelling therein. These are the only persons on the 1832 Abbot-Parsons Roll (Creek Nation Removal Roll) with the surname “Doyell” and are the relatives of these three girls, Nancy, Sarah, and Amanda Doyle, who were attending the missionary school, the Asbury Institute, at Fort Mitchell. A well-known historical figure in the decades after the war of 1812 who was heavily involved in the Creek and Seminole Nation intrigues of the times was Nimrod Doyle, whely the father of the “Creek Nation Belles” Nancy and Sarah.
He established a trading outpost on the Apalachicola River and was part of the Leslie, Panton, & Forbes Company West Florida economic endeavors. He was licensed to trade with the Creek and Apalachicola Indians living in the area at the time. I have found numerous history book narratives about his involvement in the important events in “West Florida” and the control of the area struggles between the English, Spanish, and Americans as well as the Indian tribe’s part in these dramatic events. He is listed in historical references as having an Indian wife and children and is probably the relative of the Doyell family at Thlekatchka (Broken Arrow). He is known as well for having a price on his head by the Miccosukee chiefs, causing him and his family to have to retreat to a Lower Creek town for safety at one point, according to oral history.
The trading post he founded on the Apalachicola eventually became known to history as the famous “Negro Fort”, a stronghold for hostile Blacks and Seminoles that hand been left in their hands by the withdrawing British. It was attacked by the American forces and destroyed along with three hundred partisans and their families who were inside. This massacre happened amazingly from the first shot from Andrew Jackson’s naval cannonade into the fort as his forces invaded Spanish Florida and took on the poorly armed hostile ‘Red Sticks’ (the anti-American faction of the Creek Nation, versus the ‘pro-American’ White Sticks). During the Civil War it was reconstituted as a confederate garrison and named Fort Gadsden, and fell soon thereafter to union forces. It has had many incarnations throughout the long history of Florida. It was bloodied ground on many occasions in the tumultuous journey of Florida to becoming American. Fort Gadsden is a state park today, and is near Apalachicola, Florida, a community located on the coast a few miles downriver from Blountstown. The many descendants of the two Doyle girls would intermarry among themselves as well as with the other families of remnant Indians who had concentrated in the marginal lands in the piney woods of north Florida. The two Hill families would migrate first to Decatur County, Georgia and on to Jackson and Calhoun Counties in the Florida panhandle in the mid 1800’s and become part of a growing Cheraw and Creek community that had been established there by Absalom and Jacob Scott in the first decade of the 1800’s.
This community had many families well known from Carolina Indian history including names like Scott, Porter, Copeland, Oxendine, Jacobs, and others. During the Jim Crow Era many of the fuller blood Indian families who remained behind were considered “colored” by the authorities and many communities such as those at Scott Town, Scotts Ferry, Woods, and Mount Zion settlements in the Florida panhandle and at McIntosh and Poarch Indian settlements in Alabama. Scattered throughout the south in a half dozen states were remnant Indian communities who were battling mightily to survive the racist miscegenation laws of the day. In the shadows of these communities traditional activities continued though by no means were these ways practiced by even the majority of the Indian community members. The roots of the southeastern Indian traditions relating to the Green Corn Dance, Stickball, and the ancient southeastern belief systems that had emerged from Mesoamerica a millennium before remained, though often hidden or camouflaged. In many isolated tribal communities remnants of the old ways survived. One well documented example of the survival of the southeastern ceremonial grounds was the Catawba Green Corn dance, among the Catawba of Rock Hill, a Cheraw people who remained in their homeland during the removal of the 1830’s. What follows is an article from 1913 about the last Catawba Green Corn Exposition:
“A small number of Catawba Indian families benefit economically from the so-called Indian show circuit. Some are active enough to be called professional Indians. These Catawbas make a living by attending powwows, historical events and folk art shows. A few merely sell pottery and other Catawba crafts such as blow guns, cane flutes, wooden whistles and walking sticks. Others offer pan-Indian crafts such as bead work and dream catchers. Two contemporary families provide a full cultural service including pottery demonstrations, singing and dancing, and an occasional history lecture. This business has been a part of the Catawba Indian cultural landscape for about a century. Not the first of such events but probably one of the best documented was the Corn Exposition held in Columbia, South Carolina, in January 1913. Catawba participation was sponsored by the Rock Hill Chamber of Commerce. The Indian booth was situated next to an Indian relic display mounted by Winthrop College. The Evening Herald, The Record, and The State newspapers made every effort to provide full coverage and dramatize the Catawba departure and Expo program. The first day the party traveled to Rock Hill and the next day, January 27, they departed by train for Columbia. The paper provided a short description of the delegation which included six men, two women and six children, all gaily dressed in Indian garb. The men wore grand feather headdresses. Each man had a Rock Hill pennant suspended down his back. Their arrival at the Exposition grounds was celebrated with fanfare. Two of the men participated in a parade down Main Street in Columbia.
The coverage provided for the next week is rich in detail. For instance, the Indians erected a dwelling. The press called it a wigwam. We don't know if it was a culturally accurate brush arbor or a canvas tent. The late Doris Blue, who was one of the six children, remembered sleeping in a military barrack style building. On January 28, the Indians began to demonstrate pottery making before large crowds filled with curiosity. The potters sold all their wares almost immediately. The women also baked corn bread, probably Catawba Ashe Bread. The women also joined the men in afternoon demonstrations of Catawba dance.
It is interesting to note that the Corn Exposition was the last documented occasion when the Catawba women danced with turtle shell rattles tied to their ankles. The State newspaper found these of particular interest and reported, "The latter [turtle rattle] is a queer instrument worn by the Catawba maidens in the dance. It was worn on the leg beneath the skirts and produced a weird noise." Such rattles were and still are worn universally across the Southeast by Indians who participate in the so-called Southern Cult and its all-important Stomp Dances. Such leg rattles are necessary to the Stomp Dance, a dance style which is currently being revived by the Catawba. The men danced, chanted, drummed and shook cow horn rattles filled with buckshot. The group was led by Robert Lee Harris who had traveled with the Daniel Boone Troupe. He was spoken of as a potter of unusual talent. Under Harris's lead, the Indians danced the graceful and yet highly dramatic Wild Goose Dance, one of the most popular dances at the Yap Ye Iswa Festival celebrated on the reservation the Saturday after Thanksgiving. They also danced the wildly vibrant Bear Dance. This dance was discontinued in the 1920s and today is being revived by Monty and Anna Branham. Monty has written a new Bear Dance Song in Catawba. A small but growing number of Catawba Indians know how to perform this ancient show stopper of a Catawba dance.
Unfortunately two dances performed at the Corn Exposition are no longer danced by the Catawba and their patterns have been lost. The first was the Fox Chase Dance organized by a man called Standing Bull. It was probably learned by Robert Lee Harris during his Daniel Boone Troupe days and was not traditionally Catawba. The second was the Catawba War Dance organized by Robert Lee Harris.”
The news coverage of the Catawba participation in the Corn Exposition is filled with superlatives. One article The Record newspaper was entitled, "The Catawba Are Star Number." So successful was the Exposition in general that it was extended for an additional week. Photographer Blanchard recorded the event in photos and one is reproduced here. Of the 22 Catawba Indians who took part in the Corn Exposition, only seven can be identified with any certainty today: Robert Lee Harris, John Brown, Rachel Brown, Rosie Harris Wheelock, Doris Wheelock, Edna Wheelock, and Richard Harris.
Story contributed by – Professor Tom Blumer
Since the 1980’s some Catawba led by Monty Branham and others have worked to revive the Catawba Ceremonial Grounds traditions, and to one day restore the Green Corn Dance Grounds at Nesbitt Bottoms. Another group who has also been working to restore their ceremonial grounds is the Four Hole Edisto people in South Carolina. Under leaders like Andy Spell and others, Edisto tribal leaders have been traveling to Oklahoma and learning more about the ancient southeastern ceremonial ways. Several of the State recognized groups in the Carolinas are now once again stomp dancing, playing stickball, and holding Green Corn Festivals. The Creeks who remained in the east, like many of the other tribal groups who survived the removal era, carried on their quiet lives, ignored and forgotten for the most part, often having to endure constant pressure by the mainstream to push them into the African-American community. The Florida Creek people, despite the oppression of segregation and assimilation, have persevered and maintained, along with the “Cow Creek” Muscogee of Brighton Reservation and the Miccosukee of the southern part of Florida, the Unbroken Green Corn tradition in its homeland east of the Mississippi.
Florida Creek Indian Ceremonial Grounds
In the Twentieth Century
Today there are several Creek ceremonial grounds scattered across the panhandle of Florida, and in any one year there may be more or less “grounds” that are “up”, with a functioning ceremonial cycle for that year. All are the daughters of an original Green Corn Dance that was held in the area of Ocala, Florida until the early part of the twentieth century. This Green Corn Dance was the “Peace Bundle” Corn Dance, and there were several smaller Corn Dances and ceremonials held at “daughter” grounds in other places. Through the last hundred years the “custody” of the grounds has been shared back and forth between several families, and Green Corn Dances were held at different sites at different times. The oldest custodians of the medicine bundle and its Green Corn Dance from the first half of the 1900’s among the Florida Creeks was the families of Lettie Proctor Hill and Alice Renfrow, with the Love, Cantey, Johnson, Rollins, Conway, Daniels and others active in the preservation of the tradition. This Busk held was a “daughter” of a larger Corn dance held in Ocala. In the early years Lettie Proctor Hill’s father was the medicine maker, and upon his retirement, Ray Daniels became the custodian of the Green Corn Dance White Bundle.
Ray Daniels, as the Medicine Man for the Florida Creeks made many trips through the years of his life visiting ceremonial leaders in Oklahoma and among the Muscogee and Miccosukee traditional people in southern Florida. During the mid- 1900’s several Sacred Medicine Bundles held by Seminole people were destroyed in the process of the conversion of many Seminole to Christianity. In the second half of the twentieth century, the Seminole’s Creek Corn dance and several trail Miccosukee Corn Dances attendance steadily declined as tribal economic fortunes steadily improved. By the post war years the decline of traditional religion in favor of Christianity was in full flower among the south Florida tribes, and the great Corn dance held in Ocala was too far away for many. Florida was no longer the sparsely populated place it had been in times past and especially in central and south Florida, times were changing fast. Eventually It was ‘let go” of and was no longer being held by the 1950’s. With the elder generation passing away and the “older Corn Dance” at Ocala laid to rest, Oak Hill, itself a “daughter” of the Ocala Corn Dance, found itself on its own in the late 1950’s. A small community held on and the practice of this ancient southeastern tradition dwindled to only a few dozen people during the 1960’s. With renewal sweeping Indian communities across the continent in the 1970’s, the sacred fire was once again sought out by those of Creek blood, some whose families had drifted away from the Creek traditional culture in earlier generations, though they often maintained a creek social identity.
The Ekvn Hvtke Ceremonial Grounds located near Blountstown, Florida was established there in the early 1980’s, after it was moved from the original site of the Green Corn Dance known as “Oak Hill”. With the site of Oak Hill subsumed into a road expansion project by the state, the search for a new site for the corn Dance began. Many of the members attending Oak Hill were from several different Creek settlements, including Pensacola, Bruce, and Blountstown, Florida. Several of the members were leaders in the fight for Creek Indian recognition in the state, including Don Sharon and Andrew Ramsey, both of whom had seats on the Florida Governor’s Council on Indian Affairs. Andrew Ramsey, from the Blountstown Indian Community, was a community leader and a well-known and respected Chief. He made arrangements to secure acreage for the Corn Dance to be moved to Blountstown, which it was.
The Nature of the Florida Creeks
The Florida Creeks are a people rooted in “place”, and all have deep roots in the land. Unlike many Native American nations, their culture is not worn so visibly on their sleeves. They possess no great feathered war bonnets, beaded moccasins, buckskin dresses and ghost shirts. They do not use the stereotypical Indian accouterments often seen on television, in movies or written about in countless volumes of questionable accuracy or repute. They don’t fit “outsiders’ ideas of what American Indian culture is and have been a fiercely independent people for 200 years.
Their visible culture is simple but not antiquated. Nowadays, they make use of the modern materials readily available. They use them in expressions evolved from ancient forms. Apalachicola's ancient foundation still flourishes. Its culture adapted, survived and continues today. If you encountered a Florida Creek ceremonial and observed it quietly from afar, what might you see? It would probably be--a ragged folk reeking of strong coffee, wood smoke and sweat, with exhaustion etched on every face. Or, you could see something entirely different if you were able to observe with your heart and not your intellect—if you could see the centuries of cultural beliefs, philosophy and daily life practices embedded within each and every visible action. If you watched their Ribbon Dance from afar as an outsider, you would only see ancient women, middle-aged matrons and young girls, don ribbon-laden granny styled dresses and tromp around in a circle sixteen times. Occasionally, some might jump up and down. Sound silly? It could certainly appear so. For the poorly informed, that is about all they would see. Those who know southeastern culture experience something different, something magical. Appearances are deceiving, as you will soon discover. As looks go, The Florida Creeks are a plain people and somewhat proud of it. However, they do have a spiritually rich but quiet way of life. Their culture's beauty and dignity is worn inside, privately. Outside ornamentation is left to those who place a higher value on such things.
The Ribbon Dance, and other writings contained in this volume represent only one collective model of thoughts, beliefs and traditional explanations Kunfuskee Tribal Town people have of themselves, their history, social and political structure, cosmos and unique way of life. These articles represent not just the views of one, but one collective view of many, and many have contributed to this collection presented here. Truthfully, these words are weighted more to the cultural ideal--how things should be, than to the actual. These writings express goals, teachings and desired achievements for which the Kunfuskee people strive, struggle and occasionally reach. These articles will share their Elders’ ways, that is, the understandings of lessons intuitively felt, personally known or learned long and hard through and with perseverance. It is said things spiritual change and endure through time. All others change and fade with time.
An internalized spiritual life is not subject to the destructive disintegration all things external must suffer in physical form. Ceremonial dance steps aren’t executed with exact precision or their dress sewn with perfect seams. Nor, is their singing equal to those Oklahoma Tribal Towns with hundreds of participants—not even close! However, they are firmly anchored in their past yet modern without being too materialistic. As they quote, “We are children of the past, who live in the present and are co-authors of our future; we are The People of One Fire, the Ekvn Hvtke, Topa Cule, and Kunfuskee Tribal Towns. Born out of the struggles of the last 40 years to reconnect with other southeastern communities and to restore our ceremonials and communities since the end of segregation, Kunfuskee and the other Apalachicola fasting grounds are but one manifestation of the ancient Hitchiti, “Lower Creek”, and Cheraw roots, present long before the arrival of the white man, or even the Muscogee Creek Nation for that matter. Our Busk cycle is as old as people in the southeast.
Apalachicola Tribal Town and
its Place in the Creek Confederacy
Introduction and Overview
Before the "Journey toward the Setting Sun," the Indian removals, the Southeast was home to Muscogee Creeks, their related tribes and allies, all of who were organized into a simple but workable confederacy by the time of the Spanish arrival into their lands. Social scientists call patterns by which a people are organized their "socio-political organization." For the Creeks, their basic unit of socio-political organization was the "Tvlwv," pronounced as “DUHL-wuh.” This Muskogee word means a group of people who generally share common traits, language, and kinship. They live under one authority made up of the Mekko (MEEK-koh) and other officials, both traditional and elected. As a whole, each Tvlwv possessed and defended common territory. In essence, each Tvlwv was a mini-state. Association and cooperation with other Tvlwv was largely voluntary. Their support of the overall national organization, the Creek Confederacy, and adherence to its edicts and requests, was voluntary, consensual or by persuasion only. Forced conformity was not a major factor or mechanism of social organization. A smaller individual community or satellite settlement of the Tvlwv was often called a Tvlofv. Tvlofv (duh-LOF-uh) is a contracted form of Tvlwv plus "-ofv," (within, in, inside of).
Tvlofv, therefore, signified "within the Tvlwv," within its protection or kinship circle, or within the reach of its authority. Tvlofv would often have a dancing ground or ceremonial ground called a Paskofv or Pvnkofv (pahs-KOH-uf, buhn-KOH-uh). Here were held ceremonials, dances, and important community events. Here, too, people met to conduct their business or attend matters of government. Tvlwv, considered as the unity of various tvlofv, can be translated as "Tribal Town," the basic unit of the whole of Muskogee. At least two languages were spoken in several Tribal Towns. Some Towns saw the use of at least four languages regularly: Creek proper, Hitchiti and Mobilian along with a neighboring language such as Cheraw (Catawba), Cherokee or Choctaw.
At one time there were at least fifty-five separate Tribal Towns. These autonomous Tribal Towns, in the larger unity, made up the Creek Confederacy, Tvlwv-vlke or Ocesvlke Tvlwv-vlke. Essentially, Tvlwv were smaller, related tribes which confederated to form a larger greater nation, the Creek Nation. Later, some of these Tribal Towns would become the Seminole Nations of Florida and Oklahoma, the Miccosukee Nation and others as well. However, Tvlwv were not just "socio-political organizations." More importantly, they were (and remain) the very heart of Things Muskogee. It is the whole system of government, protection, education, philosophy, religious belief and practice, kinship, citizenship - everything! Do not be misled by the translation "Tribal Town." A town, in modern America, is only a physical location of residences and businesses. From the preceding, it is apparent that Tvlwv were much more. Tvlwv may also be translated "Ceremonial Ground, Square Ground, Stomp Ground or Town Square." By the word Tvlwv, a tribe named not only its living unity, but also the location of its ceremonial entity through which its people celebrated, practiced and strengthened that unity. It was, and is, the place where the Sacred Fire resides, in the presence of whom (not which) most ceremonies were held, as well as social functions and political activities. It also named the common ancestor and place of origin from the time of Creation.
There was, and still is, great formality associated with all ceremonial grounds. Very strict rules of behavior exist for being in the presence of the Sacred Fire. This Fire, the Sun's Little Brother (itself an ancient Muskogee's perfect symbol for the symbolic presence of the Master of Breath, Perfect Creator) has always been regarded as the main spiritual embodiment of One Above, "the Place where Ohfvnkv (oh-FUHN-kuh, the ONE ABOVE) dwells among us." The central Sacred Fire is regarded, not just as a convenient method of obtaining heat and light but as a living being, sometimes like a child requiring careful attention, sometimes as a grandparent, old and full of wisdom. Now, let us turn our attention briefly to one of the major annual Tvlwv ceremonies, called the Busk or "Green Corn Ceremony." Hopefully, this will clarify an understanding of Muskogee communal and ceremonial life.
Green Corn Ceremonies end the old year and begin the new. People from each settlement, each tvlofv within a Tvlwv, gather at their Tvlwv's principal community, often called (in English) the "Mother Town." Here, their Sacred Fire burns a visible symbolic embodiment of God. All the various Muskogee and Euchee (or Yuchi) people refer to themselves as "People of One Fire." In remaining conservative Creek and Seminole communities still practicing traditional ceremonies, people speak of their kinship as belonging to a certain "Fire." Busk, the Green Corn Ceremony, is a community affair. "Busk" is a modern corruption of the Creek word Posketv or Pvsketv, "to fast," (BOHS-gi-duh). Fast they do! A long and arduous fast is the center of this several day’s long ceremony. The turning of the year for Creeks and Seminoles is the time to put in order one's personal affairs, make right all wrongs and settle all grievances, so that both community and individual can begin the New Year with a clean slate. Throughout the proceedings, people are exhorted in several speeches and the "Long Talk" to acquire and practice right and moral living in their lives.
Thanksgiving is a constant co-theme with purification and renewal. Laws, customs and traditions, folklore and other collectively defining habits of the Town are rehearsed in the original sense of that word. Although great similarity exists, each Tvlwv, independent Tribal Town, has its own unique history, philosophy, customs and beliefs—rigorously defended against all others. Many Ceremonial Grounds, like Kunfuskee, have a Court Day to institutionalize this internal cleansing process. A Green Corn Busk is the reaffirmation of the life of the whole Nation. At every Tribal Town the Sacred Fire is prominent witness to all things, the visible link connecting Humankind and One Above, the Father Spirit. It is the Altar Muskogee and the heart of the people burning as one. The igniting of the Green Corn New Fire restores order to the cosmos out of the chaos developed in the past year. It is Creation re-enacted annually.
Formerly, representatives from each Tvlwv, each Tribal Town, met together annually (or more often, if needed) to govern the whole Confederacy. These meetings were conducted by the same formalities as used in the Tvlwv. At different times in history, this central government met in different places; thus, many Tvlwv have been the "capital" of the Creek Nation at one time or another. Tradition, both eastern and western, holds that the Creek Confederacy was founded when four Tribal Towns met together and formed a common alliance shortly after a major migration from the west. Ancient Apalachicola Tribal Towns, Tvlwv Apalachicola, was seat of that ancient meeting. Kunfuskee, as it is called today, and its mixed-blood people, are among those descended from countless ancient Tvlwv, including Tvlwv Rakko Apalachicola (Apalachicola) which provided the Grounds for the Confederacy's birth. According to all sources, the Apalachicola’s existed in the East before the arrival of the founding Towns. Muskogee’s first took "White Drink" at our Town. Rudiments of the Confederacy were already in place and working prior to European Contact. However, early contact provided the impetus, which caused this informal system of rule, by mutual consent, to crystallize into a formal confederacy, bringing together approximately fifty-five small nations who acted for their mutual defense and growth. There is no question that the foundations of the Confederacy were laid in pre contact times; it is historical fact that the final formation took place as a result of the European invasion of Vnewetv.
All Tvlwv were similar but not identical. Consequently, ceremonies were similar but not identical, as customs, traditions and beliefs were similar but local practices varied. Some spoke languages completely unrelated to languages of other Tvlwv. For instance, some Creek Towns spoke Cherokee in everyday life and a few Cherokee Towns spoke Creek. Euchee, Alabama, Koasatte, Shawnee, Hitchiti, Notche (Natchez) and others were among the common tongues of many Tribal Towns. In typically Muskogean fashion, language, political unity or loyalty was not always the same. However, Muskogee Creek was the common tongue or Lingua Franca used in national affairs and between Towns. Muskogee’s were, and still are, a people in unity, not uniformity. Today, in Creek and Seminole Nations, there are still ceremonial Tvlwv that practice their ancient ways. Fourteen or more Creek Tvlwv continues on in East Oklahoma; there is several Tvlwv in North Florida and South Alabama today, including Kunfuskee, Ekvn Hutke, Topa Cule, and Hassossa Tallahassee, to name a few. As of this writing, only one or two Oklahoma Seminole Squares are ceremonially active; some are momentarily dormant. Seminole and Miccosukee Indians in Florida maintain about at least four Square Grounds, including the Independent Seminole. Each Tvlwv carefully maintains its own distinct history and traditions while sharing much in common with the other Tvlwv.
The use of Arbors ("Topv" or "Topa" in Creek, often called Vpette, shade, sheds, now) is an example of differences between the united Tvlwv. Arbors are brush covered sheds containing benches and are placed on the cardinal sides of a Square Ground. Some Towns use three Arbors on the Ceremonial Ground, some use four, others use two, one and some use none. In many Towns, the Mekko would sit in the West; it would be the North, South, or even the East in others. Three-Arbor Tvlwv generally omitted the East Arbor.
As with many non-European societies, Creeks were divided into clans. The number of clans was very large, probably as large as the number of clans in any group of Native Americans. In some communities only one or two clans might be represented; in large communities, all clans might be represented. All clans were divided into two groups; social scientists call these divisions "moieties." Clans within a moiety were bound together by strong feelings of kinship and obligations of mutual help. One did not marry within one’s own moiety. Though many Oklahoma and Florida Creeks and some Seminoles no longer know their Tribal Town, clan or moiety, these divisions are still well preserved by Tribal Town conservatives. Unique among Muskogees, new clans have been occasionally created because of curious localized situations; a clan merger is not unknown either. Among Florida Seminoles there currently exist two different Bird Clans, as well as the “Big Town” clan, which is unknown in Oklahoma. Much clan lore has been documented by John R. Swanton in his prolific writings on southern Indians.
Originally, members of one moiety married "across the Fire" into the other moiety. A man or woman could not marry into his or her own clan, or into any clan traditionally kin or aligned. For example, when asked clan membership one might respond in such a manner: "I am born to the Turtle Clan for the Bear Clan." Thus, the speaker told that his mother (and therefore himself) was of the Turtle Clan but his biological father was of the Bear Clan. That speaker would not marry into the Turtle Clan and its collateral or linked Clans such as the Wind; likewise, neither would he marry into the Bear or any of their linked or collateral clans. Furthermore, married couples lived with the wife's family, or at least in the same community. Children were always raised as members of their mother's clan. A woman's brother (or other close male relative) exercised authority over her children; a woman's husband bore responsibility for the education, training, and discipline of his sister's children (or the children of another close female relative). Considered psychologically, this interweaving provided a very sturdy system of relationships, giving children very definite role models, a sure sense of personal identity and that all-important Muskogee concept of “Proper Place and Purpose.” Children grew up knowing and feeling their proper relationships at every level with every other member of their Tvlwv and with members of all other Tvlwv. At no time were they in a limbo between life's four stages; there were very clear signs, procedures and rites of passages to completely spell out and announce each progressive stage and its various rights and responsibilities. They were spared the identity crises which have become a common feature of adolescence in modern America. It is precisely this type of community, with its well defined, reliable inter-relationships, that many younger Americans have been trying to reestablish in the communes, rural communities, and other experiments in social re-definition that have sprung up since the late 1950's.
In different Tribal Towns, principal officers were chosen from different clans. In one Tribal Town the Chief, Mekko, might come from the Bear Clan, another Tribal Town may choose from the Wind Clan, and so forth. Through different generations, Chiefs were generally chosen from the same clan, and often from the same family. However, leadership was not primarily hereditary. Simply, a young man who had grown up in the family of a Chief was more likely to meet the requirements of chieftainship than one who had not lived so close to the daily problems of leadership. If the family or clan did not, in a certain generation, produce a fit candidate for the position of Mekko, the Tvlwv would simply select whatever man seemed suited to the job regardless of his clan or station. It happened often. A Chief ruled not by enforced power but persuasion; he was not a dictator. Therefore, it was customary among the Tribal Towns to elect--or, in the case of seeming hereditary leadership, to affirm--only those in whose presence people found it easy to reach decision and agreement. Universally, people of Tribal Towns shunned those in whose presence it was easiest to find discord and strife. Unfortunately, this wise habit has not always carried over into modern tribal political life.
Red and White Divisions
A Tvlwv would be designated a "White Town" or a "Red Town." White Towns are places of refuge and peace--no blood must ever be spilled there; Red Towns are defenders and fighters. Warriors were raised up from Red Towns; only a Red Town could declare or direct a war. It is in White Towns that peace is negotiated and settlements to claims are made. Since each Tvlwv was essentially an individual tribe or small nation, each was independent, not bound to any other Tvlwv by anything but mutual consent. Moreover, no Tribal Town was obligated to join others in war or in peace--often they didn't! This factor played heavily in the destruction of the old undivided Creek Nation when it resided in the East. In the past, If Creeks from a warring community opened or engaged in any hostilities with the Americans, settlers or troops often retaliated against nearby peace towns that would be somewhat disadvantaged, due to their position within Muskogee political structure.
Division into White Towns and Red Towns provided gentle internal competition within the Creek Nation, without the bitterness that often accompanies such rivalries. Red and White Towns played each other in stickball games (War's Little Brother) called match games and in other sports. They traded produce and other goods; they intermarried. One reason for no bitter rivalries was that Tribal Towns could and did change their status: Red Towns could become White and White Towns could become Red. Some Towns, ever the practical, turned to whatever color was convenient at the time; others remained staunch and true to their historic designation. There is one Muskogee practice which we would do well to consider in these times. A Chief who had led a war or ruled during war could not negotiate peace; no Chief who had ruled during peacetime could rule during a war. Separate leaders with clearly different talents and values led the people at different times. This system worked well during times when wars were fought honorably "by the rules." Separate leaders for separate functions guaranteed that neither would ever have total control or unchecked rule and power over the people.
Apalachicola Tribal Towns, 1760's - 1990's
Old Apalachicola was originally a White Town. However, during the 1700's, an unjustified slaughter of white traders and their Creek families occurred. They had taken refuge there during an outbreak of hostilities. Apalachicola was forced, by a specially called national council, to become a Red Town. It lost much of its early prominence and was stripped of its unique privileges including its former title "Big Capital." Other privileges lost included the right to build a shade cover of woven mats over its Square Ground, and none of its citizens could serve as a national leader for ten generations. Moreover, they could be heard indirectly but were not allowed to vote in National Assemblies. They could only speak once per assembly and then only through a daughter or Sister Town or someone designated by the "King" for that purpose. After the removals to Indian Territory known today as Oklahoma, they could, and did, continue to send representatives to National Assemblies of both the Creeks and Seminoles, later called the House of Warriors and House of Kings for the Creeks and the Seminole National Council. Other restrictions were also levied against the whole Tvlwv for ten generations. Every year an Elder was required to rehearse this ancient dishonorable deed. Annually, at a Busk, an Elder would broadcast this sad tale and counts the passing generations. This tradition was ended with the splintering of the Green Corn Dance in Blountstown into several separate Corn dance grounds in the late 1990’s. These separate grounds would become known as Kunfuskee (Florida Ground), Ekvn Hvtke (White Earth), and Topv Cule (Pine Arbor).
Old Apalachicola was formerly the only Red Town among the Lower Creek towns, in the southeast part of the Old Creek Nation. Families who did speak out and attempt to prevent the traders' slaughter were allowed to withdraw to form an unrestricted refuge daughter town. This, they did. Immediately afterwards, many of those families joined relatives in a sister town near present day Montgomery, Alabama. Its Muskogee name is Thlopthlocco in I.T. (Indian Territory, now Oklahoma). Because they attempted to prevent the spilling of blood in a peace town, they were allowed the continuity of the ancient name, Rvp-Rakko in Creek, which means a species of "tall canes" from which blowguns are made. Today, Thlopthlocco is a prosperous community of well-respected Creeks. Until Reuben Cook's death, an elder from Oklahoma's Thlopthlocco visited the Apalachicola at least once every four years. Visiting elders in the early 1900's were largely responsible for the establishment of Methodism among some newly Christianized families among the Creek and Lumbee of north Florida. Upon his own conversion, Reuben Cook sent some of the "power items" for which he was custodian back to Florida Creek’s Fire and Bundle. Few at Thlopthlocco realize that Reuben had preserved portions of one of the last Creek tribal "Medicine Bundles" in Oklahoma throughout his life. "Out of love and respect for One Above, whose name I have now learned," said the note that accompanied the Town Bundle items returned to the White Peace Bundle now in the custodianship of one of the Florida Creek’s tribal towns, that of Topv Cule.
Today, in Oklahoma, South Alabama, and West Florida, the traditional Muskogee organizational pattern continues to function among those who count themselves "People of the White Path of Peace”, the Nene Mvskoke. For those Creeks who no longer know or actively follow traditions of their ancestral Tvlwv, the new system of tribal councils governing by districts will prove effective with practice for the culturally assimilated majority. After all, this is an American style governance to serve a people who have been forced into an American life-style. There are problems, as is not surprising, considering that this is a great body of people who form one nation but subscribe to, and are divided by, two different principles of rule. The traditional system works most effectively for those who are carriers of tradition in their faith and life, while the district concept is quite effective for the Muskogees who no longer know their own clan or what Tvlwv to which they belong. In the future, very adaptive Creeks will, as in the past, find a compromise suitable to both. That is characteristic of the Muskogee Way--Nene Mvskoke. For the Poarch Creeks in Atmore adjustment to life on the reservation since the 1980’s has had many economic benefits but many of the values of the older generations had faded of late.
A Brief History of the Apalachicola Tribal Town
Background and Overview of the Language, People and Town
Apalachicola (Apalachicola) is a Muskogean language confined to North Florida, eastern Alabama and Western Georgia. This tongue was once the language of several Tribal Towns and satellite communities located along the Apalachicola, Wakulla, Chattahoochee, Flint, Coosa, Savannah, Suwannee and St. Mary's rivers at various times. Its former wide range through several centuries resulted from seasonal migration and forced relocations of the Apalachicola and their daughter and sister Towns. Originally, Apalachicola was an independent Town whose main communications were in a dialect of the Hitchiti tongue. However, due to its peculiar affection for not only marrying outside both clan and moiety, but outside the tribe as well, it can be safely inferred that the dominant Muskogee Creek was also widely used.
Muskogee Creek was the language of all inter-town affairs. Because of the many mixed-blood unions between its citizens, Brits, Scots, Spanish, French, Creoles, and the Irish, the English language was in common use early on. Neither Spanish nor French were ever important linguistic factors at Apalachicola despite decades of exposure and the adoption of French military terms and Spanish food and animal names. Mobilian was also widely known. Apalachicola used Mobilian in trade with groups of West of Florida. Its last two fluent speakers, Alice and Barbara, died in 1983 and 1995. Most sources agree about Apalachicola’s early prominence. It was one of the founding Towns of the Creek Confederacy and the place where that union solidified. Primary sources also cite the loss of that prominence. An element of linguistic confusion to professionals is the custom of communities ceremonially associated with modern Creeks to use Muskogee proper as the language of business and "Medicine." Even today in South Florida, many songs and formulae used at Miccosukee Busk Grounds are rendered in Creek. Angie Debo, Frances Densmore, John Swanton, Louis Capron, William Sturtevant, and other ethnographers document this use of Creek.
The Florida Creek people’s oral history has been borne out to a surprising degree. It gives interesting insights into early desperations and the diaspora that followed the "Big Town Massacre" (circa 1760's), when several traders and their Indian families took refuge at the Tvlwv Rakko Apalachicola town during some hostilities; they were burned to death in the council house by local hot-heads. Apalachicola was a Peace or White Town at the time. This widely broadcast event brought the wrath of the whole Creek confederacy against Old Apalachicola Tribal Town, which soon splintered into several factions. It then splintered into several small groups, drifting here and there around the frontier. Many individuals aligned with Old Chiaha in southwest Georgia (not to be confused with the Chiaha further north)--others journeyed to Hothlewahthle in Alabama. Arrival of Apalachicola (Apalachicola) refugees among the Hothlewahthle, with whom they had a strong ceremonial bond of opposites, caused uproar. Most Hothlewahthle elders were enraged that a Peace Town would usurp Hothlewahthle's own war-managing function and allow blood to be spilled at a Peace Fire.
A few elders defended the refugees as not being responsible for the actions of a few hotheads. This debate led to an ensuing public drinking debauchery that led to a local schism. A portion of Hothlewahthle, (a town aligned with Tukabatchee) and the newly arrived Lower Creek refugees separated and went down river near modern day Wetumpka, Alabama to live "at the place of canes and rushes" from which they took a new name. It was these, who upon removal became Thlopthlocco Tribal Town in Oklahoma.
Before removal, some refugee Lower Creek bands returned to an old town site near where Florida, Georgia and Alabama join. Not being allowed to resettle, they inhabited a series of small satellite communities mostly throughout North Florida along with Fus-hatchee refugees. They congregated in groups based on the language spoken: Hitchiti, or Muskogee Creek. A core settled in upper N.E Florida and S.E. Georgia in modern Nassau (Fl.) county and across the St. Mary's river into Camden County, (Ga.) and throughout the Okefenokee region. A second large group settled the area from the Wakulla River westward to Blountstown in Calhoun County, Florida. Most of the remainder moved into extreme West Florida and southwest Alabama where many became part of the group now called the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. Poarch Creeks retain little Muskogee heritage although they maintained a federal trust land base, (the Poarch Creek reservation created in the mid 1980’s), a degree of genetic continuity and recently received federal recognition. Some Hitchiti-speaking Fus-hatchee, "Birdcreek People", remained in North Florida. Along with other Indian refugees such as several families of Catawba and Lumbee (Cheraw) from the Carolina’s, they are the nuclei of modern North Florida Creek people.
For a while, small ‘daughter’ Square Grounds were maintained near Macon and Fowltown, Georgia and in Yulee, Florida, at Bruce, near old Antioch, and in the Leon-Wakulla county area at Oak Hill; Busks alternated among these smaller Grounds. After a succession of locations and names, the last square ground consolidated at the Oak Hill grounds site in the 1950’s. The Florida Creek Corn Dance was eventually forced out of this site during the mid-nineteen seventies, finally obtained a fixed site leased from the Calhoun county government through the efforts of Chief Andrew Ramsey of Blountstown. The relocated Square had adopted a new name, Topv Cule (Topa chule), in honor of prominent Florida flora instead of keeping the practice of renaming the Grounds after each succeeding major headman or Maker of Medicine as had been past custom.
Other early refugee Creeks, with those from several branches of Broken Arrow, Chiaha and other mainly Hitchiti-speaking towns, later took portions of two of the four ceremonial bundles among the Lower Creek and located first to the Suwannee River where they joined the camps of the Oconee refugees from central Georgia. Shortly afterwards, they fled southward into the Florida everglades and hammock regions. They became part of the main nuclei of the Florida Seminole and Miccosukee Nations so well known today. In those olden days, the Florida Creek held two busks simultaneously - one in Muscogee Creek and several others in Hitchiti. The Creek Busk was near the head waters of the Wakulla while the Hitchiti speakers journeyed to Lake Miccosukee or near the Suwannee, depending on their clan. During the jackson invasion of Florida in March and April of 1818, Creek speakers were gathered at Francis Towne near the Wakulla for the Spring Busk known as the Arbor Dance which occurred on the days around the March new moon of that year. Hitchiti speakers had traveled to whichever Fire they belonged through their mothers. Busks in those days lasted from eight to sixteen days depending on the occasion.
War Divides the People, Language and Community
[We do not capitalize “Andrew jackson”]
Duncan McKrimmon, jackson's conscripted guide, had spent two years at Francis Towne. As a former captive, he knew the customs and habits of Red Stick Lower Creek faction. He also knew each person took "Medicine" at his mother's Busk. Logically, McKrimmon would know that all Creek speaking leaders from the area would be at Francis Towne in late March. Busks are always held on the days surrounding new moons when darkness becomes an ally for safe travel. Creek speakers who had come from Miccosukee, Bow Leg’s Town and elsewhere were unfortunately present for jackson's attack on Francis Towne. They didn't return to their distant homes within a reasonable time; the old, infirmed and very young who had not traveled to Francis Towne, fled southward to Alachua, Tampa Bay and to the northern shores of Lake Okeechobee. Creek speakers at the Brighton Seminole reservation say this was pre-arranged due to then current hostilities and proximity of American troops in South Georgia. Brighton's oral traditions also tell of some who returned to old sites in North Florida the following year to search for seeds. They found burned basket remnants which were used for patterns in the absence of baskets lost during the conflict. This is how several young women learned basketry after the loss of their camp's weavers, according to “grandma’ Mary Frances Johns, a women’s ceremonial leader of the Blountstown Green Corn Dance in the 1980’s and 90’s. Her husband Archie Johns, who was the Speaker of the Blountstown Grounds in the 1980’s said that there were so may Bird Clan members adopted in because of losses from fighting, that most of today’s Bird Clan is predominately descendants of these adopted persons.
Unwittingly, jackson's attack on Apalachicola weakened Creek dominance in the Deep South and bought time for Hitchiti speakers to flee southward. To this day, the Hitchiti language of Mikasuki dominates both the Seminole and Miccosukee Nations in South Florida. Between the Florida Creek and the Florida Seminoles, Muscogee Creek speakers now number only a few hundred. At last count, four Oklahoma Hitchiti speakers were known. At modern Florida Busks, both languages are still heard. All major announcements, Long Talks and other proceedings are often rendered in both languages by the "Tongues" or "Apotka," those men or women chosen to serve as the chief's second or speaker. Although English is used by the younger generation and frequent visitors, Mvskoke remains the language of formulae, songs and spiritual matters. Thanks to frequent Seminole and Miccosukee visitors, Mikasuki dance songs are finding their way into Florida Creek ceremonial ground traditions once again.
Many of the civil and political leaders from the original Lower Creek towns, and their relatives were removed to Oklahoma; some in November of 1818 and the rest to Texas with Lvfvkv (Lafarka, Chief John Blount) in 1832. A handful returned in 1840 and 1849 and settled with the several families who had escaped forced removal. The rest established a new town in Indian Territory, not too far from Henryetta, where they maintained a Square until the late 1940’s, mentioned previously as Tvlwv Rakko Apalachicola. Since the diaspora that commenced after the "Big Town Massacre," the Creeks of north Florida’s forefathers were often called "refugee Creeks" by the other Towns. Indeed, their numbers wandered throughout the whole of the Creek Nation for years. Because their ancestors had allowed the Peace Rule to be violated, the Apalachicola towns were often the butt of Muskogee jokes, threats and taunts. If someone were to be scolded or punished, people often said they would let them "take refuge in Apalachicola"; then, they burst out laughing knowing refuge at Old Apalachicola was a sure guarantee of retribution instead of forgiveness and peace.
The Great Humiliation
Following the massacre of 1763, the National Assembly met at Tukabatchee and stripped Tvlwv Rakko Apalachicola of the right to erect the woven cane mat coverings which once shaded portions of their Square. They were commanded to erect a red war post at the southeast corner of the Square for every public assembly and its citizens forbidden to hold national office for 10 generations—a burden which ended only a generation ago. In addition, they were required annually to rehearse publicly that awful deed at their Square. Faithfully each year, an Apalachicola elder stood before the Sacred Fire and called to mind the massacre and its associated shame. In their dances and tobacco offerings they contritely remember the victims, the participants and the whole community of that most difficult of times.
This has provided a steadfast guide from which Apalachicola parents and grandparents have redirected the community to a better course. Although forbidden to speak at national assemblies, Apalachicola was allowed one vote. Apalachicola members attended one such session during the 1959 winter. Until after World War II, Apalachicola regularly sent a representative to the House of Warriors and the House of Kings. They were ignored as most Oklahoma Muscogee is themselves ignorant of the history of their own tribal towns. Mostly, the Apalachicola diplomats sat in the back of the assemblies, and witnessed, as has occurred in most social situations where Eastern Indians tried to reconnect with western relatives. There is no historic record of them ever being consulted on any issue even if it affected them. The record only mentions that representatives were present for national deliberations.
Since 1763, the Lower Creek groups have flown its own flags over the various tribal communities. Suspiciously British in motif, one such flag was ordered altered to reflect the red of spilled blood. In the late 1700's, William Augustus Bowles altered the oblique lines and added a blue field and Sun Face taken from an English design. This banner, with the new changes, waved from the halyards of Bowles' "Muskogee Navy" until his capture; he claimed credit for its origin falsely. In 1976, in commemoration of the bicentennial the Sun was replaced with the Muskogean "Circle of Life" design now in use. When members of Paken Tallahassee Grounds from Oklahoma visited the Blountstown Green Corn Dance Grounds Fall Busk in September of 1983, a flag was presented to their Grounds. Hilolo, the Creek-speaking Seminole Grounds near Brighton Reservation at Okeechobee, Florida, and Thlopthlocco near Wetumpka, Oklahoma, are historically entitled to the use of this banner as well. As daughter and sister Towns to Hilolo, the other Seminole Busk camps are also entitled to its use. It is the oldest national flag in use in North America.
The Present and the Political
Today, the remnant (eastern) Creek people, culture, and language still display Hitchiti, Lumbee, and Catawba roots while being clearly a Creek community. The remaining descendent grounds of Old Apalachicola have mended their earlier errant ways and few have engaged in political or war-like activities for the better part of the last 150 years. Its Busks are generally characterized as solemn, peaceful, uplifting and very faithful to the old Calendar and rules. There are occasionally some who disregard those rules of order. They find little welcome and soon separate themselves from Apalachicola's proceedings. The people of the few Creek tribal towns that survived the dark times of the removal and Jim Crow law take in refugees again and still mostly marry outside the main group, with the bloodlines of many tribes and races found among ‘the people of One Fire’, of which the Kunfuskee Etvlwv is one of several existing in the Florida panhandle at the turn of the new millennium..
Often labeled as Dominicker, Redbone, Brass Ankles, Mulatto, Melungeon, and other such colorful labels by the outsiders around them, the Indian people of Florida have persevered and preserved the connection to an ancient heritage. These days, refugees, as visitors to the Square Ground and its ceremonies are called, can find peace among the Kunfuskee people--a peace of strong hearts, with a welcome smile and a handshake to greet those who have become lost, another victim in the colonial occupation of the Indian community. Nowadays, families with roots in the original Lower Creek towns are a minority, and many come from all over the United States to travel the Muskogee peoples ‘White Road of Peace’ at the remaining Corn Dance Busks held at Kunfuskee, White Earth, Topv Cule and others. They come from far away states, from the Poarch Creek, Brighton and Hollywood Seminole reservations, and from Oklahoma. As for the internal fighting and disregard for the laws of sanctuary?--that still goes on, too. Now it is called Indian or Tribal politics. These politics are largely fed by ignorance of that which is truly Muskogee and by an enormous greed inspired by recently released federal monies paid out on dockets 21, 272 and 275. The Apalachicola tribal town’s original constitution forbids acceptance of per-capita funds by its members. This is often very unattractive to those "rediscovering their Indian Heritage" for financial gain. Those active Apalachicola Tribal Towns citizens who have received docket checks donated them to the Square's building fund, food fund or other activities that benefited the whole community.
Abiding by the old rules, no civil or political activities are allowed or tolerated at the Square or during the Busks. However, tribal leaders may make important announcements, deliver speeches or make presentations. There are separate Indian political organizations in Florida and Alabama today for those persons of Indian blood who are not interested in the religious traditions of the old ways, or who are Christian. Masquerading as "tribes", most are recent in origin with few exceptions. One is the Muscogee Nation of Florida, formerly called The Florida Tribe of Eastern Creek Indians. It has a measured historical basis through the continuity of its leadership and continual struggle for the rights of Creek people in Florida. It follows the legal standards for any state or federally incorporated body. As a sovereign body, it reserves rights to tax its members and determines its own citizenship requirements. Most of the MNF enrolled members are individually lineal descendants of the people of Old Apalachicola or other lower Creek Tribal Towns or individuals appearing on various Federal, State, or local Court, military, tax, or educational records or on several associated Indian rolls, such as the Poarch Band of Creeks.
The ceremonial activities of the several Eastern Creek tribal towns do not impinge on Florida’s several Tribal political structures or activities in any manner, maintaining a separate religious government based on the ancient unbroken Green Corn tradition of all of Ekvnfvske’s various Indian peoples. The two structures, political and religious are immutably separate--true separation of church and state. Most members of the Florida and Alabama Tribes, like some in Oklahoma, have never been to a Square Ground nor have any interest therein; this does not make them less Indian. The leadership of Florida and Alabama Tribe’s, like tribes everywhere are working very hard to firmly re-establish the Creek people's rightful place in their respective homelands and to make available to them their political birthrights as Native Americans. Tribal Towns like Kunfuskee, White Earth, Topv Cule, and Hassossa Tallahassee preserve their traditional birthrights: culture, beliefs, language and native philosophy.
Apalachicola’s Traditional Leadership and Organization
Unlike other Creek tribal towns now in the west, Kunfuskee is very much a ceremonial matriarchy. Women are firmly in control and have charge over who serves as Grounds Leaders and Officers of the Tribal Town. They give their direct and indirect approval or disapproval to all business conducted at this Tribal Town. Of course, being Muskogee, they allow the men to think they're in charge; really, the men are not. Women are also fierce foes, a force to be reckoned with, in the single pole ball games so popular here. Outsiders have rightly observed, and so noted, that Apalachicola women are the levelers and equalizers, as well as the principal judges of men's actions. To get on their bad side is to risk all!
Kunfuskee Tribal Town is, by no means, a perfect ceremonial community. It has its share of problems, pettiness and apathy, and through the years the slow splintering, flourishing, and death of Corn dance grounds continue as they have for thousands of years. On the whole, its good points tend to outweigh other factors. It has a stable core of hard working Creek and other Indian people and welcomes visitors of any race who come with open hearts and helping hands. Only the current ceremonial grounds name, Kunfuskee is new, adopted in 1996 when the Apalachicola Green Corn Dance held in Blountstown began its splintering into several independent grounds, with the Hill family leaving first. The name of Kunfuskee was adopted when the families who had broken away from the Blountstown Corn Dance grounds and established a new dance grounds. They put up their new ball pole with the help of Maker of Medicine Sam Proctor from Tallahassee Wakokiye Ceremonial Grounds, and several Hassossa Tallahassee Creeks from Poarch including Charlene and Ben Andrews. The original Apalachicola Tribal Towns are old entity with historical continuity that includes countless generations in the South who have constantly adapted to the dominant white culture for survival, including keeping ceremonial times, places, and participation an activity kept close-to-the-vest by many.
As the White majority is now giving way to a “browner” and more diverse society, new challenges of social identity arise, but the White Road of Peace of the ancient southeast continues provide a solid footing for the people’s journey through life and across the centuries. Charles Hudson writes adequately about such in several books and articles. The annual building of the Sacred New Fire has never been neglected in our Florida homeland, a place of freedom from slavery and deportation for our ancestors, and a place of strength and roots for we today who carry on their struggle for human dignity and self-determination. Once kindled, that Fire burns all year in selected, secluded places within the community. The living memory of this community cannot recall a time without a Sacred Fire. Even in the midst of great turmoil, a New Fire Busk has occurred. During the mid-1960's attendance numbers were often just a few families. One year, only five families attended; a full Busk was generated and all things proper and required were observed.
Refining Tribal Town Government
In 1867, the Apalachicola authored a simple Tribal Town constitution that was revised in 1895. During a 1933 visit by the Rev. Mr. Harjo and his daughter, Alice Harjo Ball, from Oklahoma, a new constitution was written. Ray Daniels revised it in 1946. That constitution formalized the tradition of women not wearing dance shakers during times of war. During Korea, Viet Nam and the Iranian hostage crisis, all ceremonial dances were without shakers. The Writs of Obligation were adopted in 1952. These were a formal list of rights and responsibilities to be acknowledged and honored by all citizens of the Town. Age, ceremonial rank or office, clan, family and gender divided this list. An Instrument of Concord was drawn up in 1973, to spell out relationships with other Native American groups or those who portrayed themselves as Native Americans in North Florida. Articles of Incorporation were granted in 1973 but have been largely ignored since they represent a non-Indian male dominated approach to government instead of reflecting the Tribal Town's philosophical and spiritual traditions. Those articles were taken over by a group composed of Christian and secular Creeks who wished to abolish all ancient beliefs and customs. They wished to maintain nothing except for genetic claims which would bring financial gains such as docket payments or grants.
Finally, in 1980, a formal document reflecting traditional Tribal Town structure entitled "Constitution of the Confederated Apalachicola Tribal Towns" was created with the help of a local law faculty who helped codify those traditional provisions which did not run contrary to the constitution of the United States. New provisions were drafted to cover those traditional provisions which conflicted. Of note are two interesting articles which reserves the Florida Creek traditional lands as a nuclear free zone and one which releases certain families from long standing bondage and servitude--a formal abolishment of Creek slavery! After several years of debate and careful comparisons with historic traditions, this constitution was adopted on a trial basis during the Busk of 1982, during the movement of the sacred fire from the old ceremonial Grounds site in Wakulla County to Blountstown, its former home. Dr. Andrew Ramsey, Principle Chief of the Creek/Cheraw Indian settlement at Blountstown, along with Chief Buck Bryant, was able to secure several acres to lease from the county in 25 year cycles.
The new Constitution was formally ratified by the attending membership during the 1985 Green Corn Ceremony held in Blountstown, Florida. Chief Claude Cox's staff in Oklahoma provided guidance during the trial period. Although they did not approve all provisions, they approved the overall document with high praise for the manner in which it was undertaken, the way in which it was carefully examined through trial usage and ratified after long, arduous "Muskogee" debate. Kunfuskee, though hundreds of years from its roots among the many towns of the Old Creek Nation, plods along at its own pace, keeping faith with traditions old and new while being very much at home in the modern computer age where traditions come about more quickly than in ancient times.
The eastern Creek ceremonial people have kept a low profile and are regarded by some as long extinct. However, it is not an inactive community. It just chooses not to fall victim to currently popular pan-Indian pow-wow movements. Several years ago, with help from Edward Ball, Joe Wilkie, J. C. Belin and the Alfred I. DuPont Estate, the Apalachicola Tribal Town opened a fine Native American Museum with an excellent collection of Southeastern and Southwestern Native Indian materials. Its library had several thousand books and articles about Native America, several historical documents and many ceremonial items. Beginning in 1964, the traditional tribal town ceremonial people along with the Florida Tribe of Creek Indians leadership operated community schools in areas with concentrations of Creeks, such as Blountstown, Bruce, Pensacola, Milton and several more. Classes were also conducted at the previous Square such as Oak Hill in Wakulla County. In spring of 1981, the Panhandle Area Educational Cooperative contracted with the museum and Apalachicola Tribal Town to establish a cultural revivification program for all West Florida Creeks.
The program produced several text books, a dictionary, held special events and amassed a nice collection of video footage suitable for research purposes. Classes were added P.A.E.C.'s leadership at Bruce, Pensacola, Blountstown and Panama City, Florida. Individuals such as Steve Williams of White Springs, Florida conducted classes and presented countless educational programs in public schools, before clubs, associations and interested visitors to his Wilderness Canoe Livery. Through P.A.E.C., the program served not only children but the educational needs of whole families by organizing classes around family centered learning experiences based on traditional Muskogee models. Beginning in 1976, the traditional people have worked with the State of Florida to review and provide input regarding Native American issues such as human remains, historical properties and the protection of archeological sites.
Apalachicola provided important data which helped identify and protect a Tampa site, now part of Seminole Tribe of Florida property, located in the Tampa, Florida area. Apalachicola oral history was precise enough to predict the accurate number of burials at that site. This feat rated notice in the Tampa papers. Apalachicola citizens have also given state officials accurate information concerning the locations of several other important sites including early points of European contact in North Florida. In the early 1980's, a member of Apalachicola provided information about important sites in the Tallahassee area. Test excavations had been conducted at that site in the mid-1960's by a member of the community studying archeology at Florida State University. Several years later when the site proved out as the earliest known Spanish point of contact in the Tallahassee area, Apalachicola's contribution was overlooked.
In all the PR and glory that surrounded this event it was understood that the State of Florida needed to use the site to generate public interest and support for its financial strapped Bureau of Historic Sites and Properties. The Apalachicola people have never been interested in detracting from anything which would benefit the whole people of Florida; "We are Floridians, too," they would say. In other areas, Apalachicola has continued to work well with the agency privately. Apalachicola provided a private but traditional reburial ceremony for remains from the Crystal River site based on traditions from the mound building era which are still practiced by the community. The reburial, closed to the public, was a quiet, graceful and dignified undertaking. The tribal town continues to provide information and some artifacts for the State Museum of Florida History when asked. Dr. Andrew Ramsey, working with the division of Historical Sites and Properties, erected a Creek language historic marker. It is located at Blountstown, Florida--the first bilingual marker in Florida. The text of this marker reads:
Apalachicola Creek Indians permanently settled Calhoun County in 1815; wars forced them out of Alabama. A new Tribal Town was built by Chief Tuskie Hajo Cochrane between Old River and Noble Lake. Cochrane is an anglicized version of his Creek name Corakko pronounced "Cho'thlakko" which means Horse. The 1823 Treaty of Moultrie Creek recognized Cochranetown with its 100 families as part of the Blunt-Tuskie Hajo Reservation now called Blountstown. Meske 1815 mahen, Estecate Ocesvlke Vpvlvcekola fullvt. Tepokv empefatkvtet eyicet tacko Kvlhun vpoketv hatyakvtes. Mimvm, Tvske Hacoketatet talofv empvtakvn hayvtes. Tvske Haco Corakko "Cochrane" Wacenv ehocefkvt toyvtes. 1823 opunvkv-cokv (Motle Temfvtcetv) oc-ofvn, Corakko Talofv "Cochranetown", Plvnt-Tvske Haco ekvntacko hahoyvtes. Mucv nettv, Plvnt-en-Talofv tos. The 1832 Treaty of Payne's Landing compelled local Creeks to emigrate to Texas with Chief John Blunt. Tuskie Hajo Cochrane's daughter, Polly Parrot, refused to go. Her clan fled northward to a Calhoun County wilderness called Boska Bokga, "the last fasting place." The Bokga's people became known as the Boggs family. Many Calhoun County citizens descend from Polly's clan. 1832 opunvkv-cokv (Lucuwv Temfvtcetv) oc-ofvn, Teksvke min vpeyvnonstkes kihocen. Vyepofvn Tvske Haco echuste vyetvn eyacekot. Polly em-estvlken vtelohyet kvn posketv pokkon sohletkvtes. Mucv, Kvlhun Tacko ofvn, Polly enrohonvpvlke fulle emunks. In 1986, Florida Tribe of Eastern Creek Indians whose members include the Boggs clan was recognized by the State. Today, they still maintain their ancient traditions. Their unbroken line of titled chiefs is Tuskie Hajo Cochrane-1832; Polly Parrot, regent matriarch 1833-1898; Tuskie Hajo John James William Joseph Boggs-1900; Tuskie Hajo James Daniel Boggs-1920; Alice McClellan Boggs, regent matriarch 1933-1961; Tuskie Mahaya Hajo Dr. Andrew Boggs Ramsey-1962, The Tuskie Hajo (Zealous Warriors) all descend from Polly. Cochranetown is 3 miles south of here, east of SR 69. Ohrolope 1986, Kvnfvske, Vhakv-hayvlke em-nakaftetv oc-ofvn Ocesvlket Florida Tribe kerkueckv emhoyet omvtes. Hiyomat, Kvlhun Tacko estecate Mvskokvlket fulle emunks. Emmekkvlket Tvske Haco Corakko 1832, Polly 1833-1898, Tvske Haco Can Cems Welev Cose Pokkvs 1900, Tvske Haco Cems Tvnel Pokkvs 1920, Vles Mvklelan Pokkvs 1933-1961, Tvske Mvhayv Haco Vntolv Pokkvs Lvmse 1962, Hocefkvlket omvts. Pommekkvlke Pollyketate Rohonvpvlket omes, Mvtto!
The Current Situation
In passing, let it be mentioned that the majority of modern Eastern Creeks who belong to this fire by blood descent are not members of any ceremonial square ground and they are largely members of Pentecostal, Methodist, Baptist and Episcopal churches and are generally active in their respective churches. Many do support tribal social activities, come to stickball games and enjoy community suppers. In keeping with past influences of the Moravians, the Square maintains cordial relations with the large local Mennonite population who often assist in tribal building endeavors and offer spiritual support to its way of life. Black Creeks who have been associated with the community have largely chosen to abandon their ties with the Grounds, as have many White families once close friends of the community. Sadly, a few Indians themselves have developed prejudices against Black Creeks where their forefathers had little. The practicing membership of the Grounds, about a dozen families, misses these old friends, especially the Proctor, Rollins, Cantey, Johnson and Love families. The memory of elders from the 1930’s, and 40’s like Lettie Proctor Hill and Alice Renfroe is still present at Kunfuskee peoples camps. Departed elders like John “Breck” Thomas and Don Sharon, both strong leaders of Blountstown ceremonial grounds during their day are dearly missed.
Emma Burney, a great story teller and Creek orator was dearly missed after her death. There always seems to be a political upheaval within North Florida's various Indian communities. However, by continuing to function under the older woman dominated system, Creek ceremonial tradition has been able to minimize disruption. Thankfully, throughout the past two centuries, a few Eastern Creek families clung tightly to that which was theirs: language, culture, "Medicine", ceremonies, music, life and love of the land. The Kunfuskee Ceremonial Ground is small and insignificant compared with the whole of Indian America...but, they are still Indian and they are still here today. Ignoring them will not make them disappear--at least, it hasn't so far.
The situation for Oklahoma's Creeks is different today, too. Since the 1970's, The Oklahoma Creek Nation has developed a new modern political structure. They are now divided into geographically defined districts which elect officials to represent them. There is a centrally elected principal chief, and a highly organized and growing tribal government. In the 1980’s, an attempt was made by Allen Harjo and other traditional on behalf of the tribal town Mekko’s in a federal lawsuit to return the Nation to a traditional form of government but it was soundly defeated. The Western Creeks have made great progress in every area since the early 1970’s when their current growth began. There are still a dozen or so functioning Tribal Towns holding Busks but the vast majority of the Creeks in Oklahoma, like Indians everywhere, are Christians. The long standing rift among the Creeks between “Indian Church” Christianity and the traditional way of life is healing as Christians come to appreciate traditional culture. More and more, Creeks are taking pride in their past, hanging on to old customs, relearning forgotten lore and generally feeling good about themselves and their future. Today, when one visits an Indian church, it’s full of elders with few young people, and at the ceremonial grounds all night stomp dances and Green Corn festivals, one sees many young people, and fewer elders.
Not everyone is happy with the current affairs in Oklahoma's Creek Nation, and tensions between the ancient organizations and the new modern “Tribes” is an ongoing struggle. The traditional Florida people don’t know enough to comment about it. There does seem to be an active group trying to maintain the older House of Warriors and House of Kings government, at least for traditional Tribal Towns, and many descendants of the Miccosukee who went to Oklahoma are active in reviving their own unique identity among the many of Creek Nation. It is hoped they find a balance where the Tribal Towns and their citizens continue firmly within the folds of Creek Nation, vote in elections, run for offices and avail themselves of all services available. It is also hoped the new National Council, in its wisdom, would encourage traditional leaders to meet as the two older Houses to oversee affairs affecting Tribal Towns which are not necessarily of concern to other Creek citizens.
Again, those in the East do not know enough to grant comment with any degree of certainty. Though it does not count, at each election for principal chief in the Oklahoma Creek Nation, some southeastern grounds solemnly discusses the candidates, take a vote and sends a letter West with its ballots. Many Creeks in the east still feel part of the “Mvskvkvlke”, the whole nation, all who are the descendants of the original first people, who emerged from the earth in a long ago time. Many modern Florida and Poarch Creek and Seminole, and sadly even the always defiant Miccosukee, have become absorbed into the modern capitalist systems. This ritual of “keeping an eye on” affairs among our people west of the Mississippi keeps the panhandle Creeks from feeling alone. Other groups of Creeks in the South, such as the Poarch Band, tend to avoid Kunfuskee and the other panhandle grounds because of their strong pronouncements against avid pan-Indianism represented as "authentic Creek”. Frictions with the Poarch Creek have been pronounced in the past, especially once the Poarch Band became a “federally recognized Tribe” in the mid 1980’s and lost touch with many of its roots as tribal people. The betrayal of the spirit of inter-tribal southeastern Indian cooperation among the Lumbee, Creek Nation East of the Mississippi groups, MOWA Choctaw, and others by the Poarch political leaders upon obtaining recognition was characteristic of their ancestor’s actions during the Creek Civil War in the early 1800’s. Clearly the Poarch Creeks have changed little since their ancestors scouted for the US Army way back then.
The work of the Hassossa Tallahassee Grounds people to restore their ceremonial fire was watched with great interest over the last 15 years by the Apalachicola grounds and made for many an interesting comment around the Green Corn arbors in Blountstown during the 1980’s and 90’s. The eventual adoption of Oklahoma Creek ceremonial procedure by the Hassossa group wasn’t surprising to the Florida grounds people. Since the establishment of the sacred fire by Oklahoma Creek Medicine Man Dave Louis at the turn of the century, the mixing of elements of southern Pentecostal Christianity with the (seemingly only partial learned) teachings from Oklahoma and imported to the Poarch creek community there has a steady decline among the “membership” there. In conversations with the Hassossa people, it shows how little the Creek community there knows of the other groups of Indians nearby, both Creek and Cheraw. Few knew (or believed) that Green Corn Dances had been held in Blountstown for 30 years, much less centuries in the Wakulla area. Most Florida traditional people avoid interaction with the Poarch Creeks due to the ignorance of traditional Creek manners and protocol.
The Muskogee (Creek) Nation News (MCN News) in Oklahoma has carried occasional articles about Florida Creek grounds events and sometimes publishes its ceremonial schedule and has written nice articles about Oklahoma Creeks visiting here. Many of the traditional people in Florida subscribe to the MN News. Many have ties with several Tribal Towns in Oklahoma such as Duck Creek and Tallahassee and visit when they are able. Now that the allotted time of censure against the Old Apalachicola descendants has passed, and the old hopes for unification (culturally) held by many elders in Florida has faded, new ideas and visions of a younger generation come to the forefront.
Even as the Florida people have learned more about the “modern” Muscogee Creek Nation and Poarch Band of Creeks ideas of what “being Indian” means, the elders have encouraged the people to turn inwards even more, and the always low-profile identity of the traditional has become even more conservative at both Apalachicola Grounds, though the people are still concerned with affairs in Oklahoma. This concern has always been so, though since Creek Nation is “back on its feet”, the warm welcome the Florida people received before the 1980’s has chilled some. In the late 1970's Chief Cox called upon the Apalachicola grounds leaders to represent him with the State of Florida as interested parties when he sought to protect ancient sacred sites and mounds. The Hon. Mr. Cox helped them with dealings with the Government when the Town tried unsuccessfully to obtain a permanent site for the squaregrounds. The U.S. Department of Forestry was unreceptive and at times, rude and hostile. In turn, the Florida people helped Florida and Oklahoma Seminole Nations save an important site at Tampa. With the MCN News, Apalachicola produced a video tape of traditional stomps performed at the Tallahassee Junior Museum.
Its crafts people have supplied traditional old style Creek garments and items for several tribal towns and some state museums. Annie Tucker weaves beautiful sashes. Chief Andrew Ramsey teaches children Creek language and customs, as he has for more than half a century. Some make beautiful baskets or ball clubs. Miccosukee elder Mary Johns contributed her vast store of knowledge and skills, and always endowed the Green Corn Dance at Blountstown with dignity through the many decades until her death a few years ago. Her husband Archie’s years as Speaker of the Grounds in Blountstown are treasured by many. Dan Townsend creates very beautiful traditional shell cups for use in Oklahoma and here. Museums snap up his bone and shell work. Claude Cox, Robert Trepp, Bill Fife and others in Oklahoma, have written letters of support for the Eastern Creeks as it tries to regain a long overdue recognition for Milly Francis, Daughter of the Prophet Francis, an important Medicine ancestor for the Florida Tribal Towns. Like the Florida people, Creek Nation is hoping to see a stamp issued in her honor one day. Slowly, the Eastern Creeks are being welcomed back as a tribal town by some in the west. It isn't known on whose shoulders falls the responsibility but one day "The People of Apalachicola Tribal Towns" hope to receive a letter or resolution from the National Council or the Tribal Town Mekko’s saying the deeds of its forefathers are forgiven - "You have done a good job and may now raise the White Standard of Peace over your Grounds". The Apalachicola would be pleased if they were told ..."you have done well, you have kept that which was your own and you have done so honorably."
Yes, the eastern Creek Indians are still here. They are a mixed-race community for the most part, having been called Dominicker, Melungeon, Redbone, and a hundred other names by outsiders over the years. Yes, remnants of other Creek towns and tribes are found in their ranks; Natchez, Yuchi, Alabama, Coushatta, and many others. Cherokee, Catawba, Lumbee, Waccamaw, and Choctaw bloodlines can be found there too, and continue to mingle in the grandchildren of our towns. The blood of other tribes runs in the veins of many who uphold the Green Corn in the community, and these together add up to what it means to a Kunfuskee, Topv Cule, or White Earth Tribal Town citizen. Refugees are still coming, and are still welcomed, as they were in 1710, they still are in 2010. Although the Kunfuskee people isn’t missionaries in any sense, some of their non-Indian neighbors have come to prefer "Medicine" at the Grounds over other formal religions, philosophies or belief systems. They are welcomed but cannot hold traditional offices or partake in any benefits reserved to Native Americans because of their genetic ancestry. As already mentioned Apalachicola's constitution forbids that and accepting per capita payments from land claims money, though as the years past those who took part in the struggle for compensation is becoming less. Those who knew the sting of the segregation and the Jim Crow era being fewer each year, old wounds begin to heal.
Kunfuskee still Busks plays stickball, and the people touch "Medicine." As a whole, they hold as near complete inventory of ancient Southeastern ceremonial ways as any small group of Indians anywhere. They help one another, attend family reunions at the Bruce Indian Methodist Church, support the Apalachicola River Indian Community Conference in Blountstown, carry grandkids to the Poarch Homecoming Powwow, make traditional prayers and offerings and keep the past in their hearts as they travel Nenē Mvskokē, The Muskogee Road, to the future. They, and the many participants at Miccosukee and Seminole Busk Grounds, including some non-affiliated Independent Seminoles, were once part of the same ancient Tribal Town system. Each developed separately but similarly for the last 200 years. They have all done well with what fate dealt them. They are all Indians of Florida.
Vnewetv : (ah-NEE-wih-duh, Ah-nee-WIH-duh, AH-nee-wih-duh, AH-nee-wih-DUH)
The whole of aboriginal North America and all its Native inhabitants prior to European colonization. Legends, myths and stories define Vnewetv to encompass the whole land mass and its delicate but harmonious balance of all things under, on or above it. Its parts are considered inseparable one from another by Native American Carriers of Tradition. Also, the Back of the Turtle, Turtle Island, Lands that Turtle helped to dredge up from under the waters. Actual origins of Vnewetv are unknown; its root resembles a similar Olmec word.
The Creek Language, A Dictionary
The Muskogee Press, 1985
* * *
"Vnewetv" is not a Muskogee word. However, the meaning of "Aniweda," in Anglicized form, is important to the people of Apalachicola. It should be important to Native American descendants throughout the whole of North America.
This word appeared in the 1895 Constitution of the Apalachicola Tribal Towns, now the Kunfuskee, Topv Cule, and Ekvn Hvtke ceremonial grounds. Will West Long, noted Cherokee scholar in North Carolina, made occasional use of this word. An Elder of a Mohawk Presbyterian congregation broke out in broad grins when Apalachicola visitors used the term in a 1976 program for Dr. Margaret Mead at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Dr. E. M. Hoffman, of Berea College, Kentucky, used "Vnewetv" frequently during the many lectures he gave on Native American history. Essie Parrish, a Pomo Shaman and Dream Dance leader, also knew and used this word to describe ancient Pomo homelands.
No tribe has claimed it. Linguistically, it could belong to any number of language families. Although not in common use by many Native Americans today, it continues to be known among those whom we call Carriers of Tradition, people who know, remember and practice ancient ways. Dr. James Howard, a social scientist specializing in Southeastern studies, was a frequent attendant at New Tulsa Tribal Town Green Corn Ceremonies in the mid-sixties. In the presence of Dr. Mary Haas and her guests from Oklahoma City, the Silversteins, others, and Dr. Howard inquired about the word. How gratifying to hear Eastern and Western Creek Elders agree on "Vnewetv." In 1980, Dr. Rob MacLaury discovered this word on a field trip to North Florida where he did linguistic fieldwork in our community for his dissertation. Dr. William Harrison of Northern Illinois University in Dekalb sees a related word in the Mixe-Zoque language with the same meaning Apalachicola ascribes to it. This is an elusive word, perhaps a sole survivor of a more ancient language, he suggests.
There is no one English word that can serve as an adequate translation. Vnewetv, to state simply, represents a collective categorical concept: ecology, environment, destruction or renewal, wholeness, and responsibility--those very concepts with which the world's present future wrestles. Vnewetv means the whole of North America, not just the landmass. Vnewetv encompasses the delicate harmonious relationship of all things that have form, substance, purpose, and place. These four words define "a being" in the Apalachicola community. In English, "a being" is often limited to just specifically delineate living things. Among most Native Americans, "being" usually includes such things as rocks, thunder, clouds and mountains. After all, we often speak of the Sky Nations, the Grass Nations, and all the Nations that have form, substance, purpose and place. Vnewetv refers to the natural land without its borders or boundaries marked out by modern man, strangers on the Turtle's Back. View Vnewetv as a continent unscarred by careless development, man-made dust storms, forests in ruins and concrete or asphalt covered meadows. Vnewetv encompasses the homeland of all Native Americans. It implies that Mother Earth is not inexhaustible. Vnewetv requires humans to make critical choices--stewards or stealers?
Vnewetv is more than a place in historical time; it is an idea about life, the idea that we have relationships and responsibility to all living things. It implies inter-connectivity. The Old Ones and their ways are not gone. Momentarily, they are just invisible. Vnewetv reminds us of their ever-presences. It defines environment, ecology and renewal--the whole of North America, the whole earth, too.
We are Vnewetv. We are inseparable from it. That word, whatever its linguistic origin or age, speaks best for traditional Native America. Vnewetv is the visible and invisible unity of all our diverse ceremonies and beliefs. Vnewetv: The Soul of the Land and the Souls of the Indian people are One.
Nene Mvskoke, the Muscogee Way of Life
POWER, THE FORCE OF LIFE
Originally suggested in 1978 by Dorothy McIntyre, a Cheyenne, Michael Sawyer an anthropologist, and Breck Parkman, an archeologist, it was compiled and edited from the notes, tapes and papers of the Apalachicola Tribal Town Ceremonial Committee by Charles Simpson and William Michaels in the early 1980s.
"Power, best expressed and understood through ceremony and ritual, is Geographically Specific, Watch water, winds and smoke... Power always moves in a circle!"
In nature, the spiral is the verb of Power. Native American cosmology and worldviews often confuse those raised in other traditions, especially if their traditions hold erroneous or stereotypical views about Native Americans. For generations, countless statements about Native American concepts have been offered up to the public or put forth in print and declared to be the heart of things Indian. Seldom have such statements approached accuracy simply because no one statement fits all—neither regions, nations or individuals. This is not to say that common threads do not exist, they do. However, a few threads do not make the whole garment of a culture or a belief system. Nevertheless, one thread or idea with wide play throughout the Americas is that of Power. If one statement could be declared basal, it would concern ideas of Power. This is particularly true for the people of historic Apalachicola Tribal Towns. For them, Power and ideas about Power are the heart of things Muskogee. Expressions of Power and all their associated ideas must be understood to comprehend Apalachicola's uniqueness; this is no easy task. To facilitate this difficult task and to state briefly what is purported to be so, let us momentarily engage in the very thing Apalachicola and other Native American communitie’s rail against, namely, judgmental statements and unintentional half-truths. Vague generalities based on accurate statements widely held but inappropriately applied out of context will serve as our example.
Next, we define Power using Native Americans' own perspectives and examples. Lastly, an understanding of Power, its function and application in the life of the Apalachicola community will be discussed. To set forth a clearer understanding of Power, its aspects and role accepted by surviving southeastern ceremonial communities in Florida and Oklahoma is no easy task. It is neither our desire nor within our abilities to decide who knows more, Native Americans or others. Native Americans, by some, are characterized as savages, child-like primitives or wild men incapable of thought who lived their lives by instinct, some practical knowledge, and silly superstitions prior to European contact. This is an absurd image. Traditions and teachings of Native Americans developed over several thousand years of careful minute attention to every aspect and detail of the natural world around and inward world within. In fact, new worldviews continue to unfold and develop.
All cultures continue to develop, stagnate, grow or regress. Readjustment is natural. Cultures and organisms, life at all levels, follow similar patterns. Forebears of Native Americans are the equal of philosophers and saints of European, Asian or other traditions, in subtlety, profundity and wholeness of thought. The primitive-civilized distinction takes too much for granted; it cannot serve as a framework for exploration of profound differences or similarities between Native American and other people's thought. One could argue strongly that there is no such thing as European thought. Examples offered may include John Hus, a Czech, and a priest named Martin Luther or kings and peasants. Even a brief study would discover great diversity in European experience over countless generations, many extolled, many not. Eventually, it would be decided certain subtleties and characteristics do allow one to name something as being European and not Asian, African or of some other cultural or regional designation. Precisely our point; Native Americans possess great diversity, too.
Diversity nearly made extinct in the minds of non-Native Americans by too many movies, novels and erroneous folklore. Early Europeans were unable to grasp the diversity of Native American cultures. These diverse Native American cultures cannot be summarized in a few pages just as one cannot summarize 2000 years of European culture in a few pages either. The European mind arrived on these shores with its own preset categories: religion, science, philosophy, ceremony, ritual, customs, kinship, government and the like; each was distinguished from the other. Although these cultural slots were all interactive to some extent, they were not an integrated whole. More often than not, they reacted to each other rather than with each other. This was incomprehensible to Native Americans. Europeans seemed unable to grasp all-pervasive Power, a concept intimate with most Native Americans. Europeans deified and divided Power, which was distributed only to those who selected conformity. Divisions such as animate or inanimate, life or death, moral or immoral, royal or common, sacred or profane had a narrow focus in the European mind, a focus so narrow that Europeans were only able to recognize a limited range of "Beings"--namely people and angels. In fact, many Europeans did not accept Native Americans as human beings! Europeans did not recognize natural balance and harmony.
They divided everything and believed themselves divinely ordained to overthrow nature. At the heart of the Muskogee Way and most Native American societies, is an acknowledgement and acceptance of an indivisible all-pervasive Power. Native American divisions were anything but narrow and rigid. One inevitably finds the necessary mechanisms for escaping even these broad interactive categories best describe as fluidic. In Europe, individual freedom was limited; community frequently curtailed it. Native American personal freedom enjoyed support within the context of community. In Europe, Power was a distant abstraction individually deified. Native American Power was simultaneously more than a distant abstraction. It was both integral and could be experienced personally although Power, itself, is held to be impersonal. Though failures occurred, Native American societies strove to live in a harmonious balance integral with a universe filled with countless interacting "beings"--humans, pine trees, golden silk spiders, earthworms, ethereals, brown bears, rocks, foxes, and blue jays, that is, all things having form, substance, purpose and place.
As some would call it, things possessing "Will" or "Life" are alive. An eight-year-old Apalachicola boy once stated out loud that rocks have a mighty powerful "will" because they stay still so long. "Will" or "Life," it is also called "Power," from French "pouvoir," "to be able." To have Power is to be able, to be capable, to live and will. Power is the Enabler of all things. Power's source, viewed symbolically, is the ordered Upper or Higher World and the disordered Lower World, worlds of energy, spirit but not physical matter. Power is without limit, form or individualizing characteristics. Power is the activator and enabling force of our solid Middle World. Humans exist in this Middle World sandwiched between Power's opposing natures--orderly and chaotic. Humans influence and are influenced by the flow or movement of Power, the [original] energy, animator or pure source--the deepest spiritual expression of Power. Another expression for Power is Innate Wisdom, that is, incorruptible thought, similar to genetic memory. Native America regards Power as sacred--sacredness itself. In addition, Native Americans have all seemed to regard Power as being a constant and always being in motion when it is active. Power is said by some to be bound up in a constant duality—cosmos and chaos, active and potential, or balance and imbalance. It is no accident that the plane of human existence is called The Middle World. To the people of Apalachicola, Power is with all things. It is either potential or active but not simultaneously both.
A particular being may or may not manifest or make full use of Power. An animal may possess only normal Power, its life, strength and instincts. Or, it may exhibit extraordinary measures of Power that sets it apart from others of its species. Native Americans consider things so set apart sacred. Sacred because they are dedicated and devoted to a singular purpose or use and therefore worthy of respect, reverence and veneration. A tree, a rock, a mountain are all actively or potentially Powerful. Thus, they are actively or potentially sacred. All things derive their being from within the sacred source, all of them--everything in what is now called "environment"--must be respected. They are each wise in ways, which we have yet to understand. Power is impersonal. That is the most important but difficult thread to understand. Power is without judgment but conscious. Humans can personalize power. Each woman and man can turn his or her heart toward the Source and be intimate with it. Humans create this intimacy; Power does not. Power is equal towards all things.
Power personified flows forth and is called One Above, Creator. It can be perceived but has no personal perception beyond a consciousness of self-awareness and the will to exist. The human role is to seek out and support balance and harmony in all things. We, as any “being," may serve as vessels for portions or all of sustaining Power. Power defines Wisdom through natural law. Human life, inseparably interwoven with all other beings, is only one member of the whole community, all beings in the universe that is, itself, regarded as one whole body. As members of this whole body, humanity practices its religious rituals--events that direct or explain the flow of Power. Rituals prepare humanity for Power's inflow. Ritual allows humans to both perceive and receive Power from its source. What many call prayer can be seen as an imploration for Power, from a sacred, if not central, source, that sustains all beings. Ceremony and ritual provide humans and all beings with patterns. By such patterns they are capable of acquiring and using Power to influence or regenerate parts of the universe. A human community may, by its rituals, ask that sacred Power flow into it and bring it new life.
Another function of ceremonies is housekeeping. Power flows through openings or cosmic portals such as a Square Ground or particular person. Such sacred or set apart places or people must be maintained in proper order, be free of physical or spiritual clutter and provisioned with those things needed to host Power. Ceremonies or rituals mark the boundaries and flow of Power and its activities. Rituals do not define Power or life as some assume but help define and establish effective rules for the use of Power. Holding this Power-based view of reality makes it natural that ceremony or ritual precedes the in filling, absorption, of Power. Many bird and animal beings observe courtship rituals prior to the coming of new life. Some view human intercourse as sacred ritual that opens the way for Power to flow and do the work of generating life. As such, it is not to be regarded lightly. Difficulties arise in trying to explain that this same Power, this sacredness which can dwell lovingly in the heart of an individual, is the same Power that may be misused by those whose hearts are impure--tuned to selfish means which can produce disharmony. Such Power is no longer sacred, no longer life giving. It has become perverted, destructive and life depriving. Women and men must strive always to keep their relations with all other beings in respectful balance. Morality is a relative degree of the beneficial use or corruption of Power. Thus, morality is a human responsibility because humans can use power.
Its provenance is not the impersonal One Above, the Creator and Source. "Acquired, Ascribed or Using Power" are just ways of saying life (Ascribed or Innate Power) is sacred and in motion--Active Power in use. Flowing of sacred Power (motion, use) is the basic Native American value from which originates customs and moral intuitions. The aged are thought to be knowledgeable, wise and Powerful. Consequently they are treated with respect. Their longevity provides ample opportunity for exposure to, and absorption of, Power. Wisdom is born of experience. Virtues of honesty, (self) restraint, industriousness, etc., are not only necessary for proper use of Power but result from it. Such characteristics are necessary if one walks a sacred path such as Nene Mvskoke, the Muskogee Road. During times of life-crisis, such as birth, illness or even menstruation, Power, or its strength and effects, may be deceptive and thus dangerous. It may be too strong for some to endure, and thus, equally dangerous. At times like these, communities and individuals practice certain rituals to prevent harm, that is, they call forth rules of understanding and perceiving Power.
Persons who are receivers of Power must act in a manner proper to Power. They must abide by certain time-hallowed and effectively proven mechanics to insure the sacred is not perverted or accidentally turned to destructive ends. The Native American woman, as do all women, has proof-positive that she has become Power filled. The women of Apalachicola separate themselves at times of menstruation to protect those around them whom they love. Women, at this time, are Power-laden. They are simply filled to overflowing with an infusion of Power--not unclean in any manner. Running 220 volts of electricity through 110volt wires will cause a power overload and an eventual meltdown. Modern Native Americans often use electricity as a micro-example of Power. Electricity is neither good nor bad. Only uses to which it is put produce good or destruction. Ceremony and ritual is to Power as wiring is to electricity. Improperly wired homes are doomed to destruction, immediate or eventual.
Following this logic, one can see correlations between trained electricians and trained ceremonial leadership. Remember, Power is, itself, non-judgmental and impersonal. Power neither rewards nor punishes. Power does not purposefully change human condition. Some may say Power is non-directive or non-specific. It is the human misdirection or misuses of Power's partnership that wrought destruction and harm. Power does not will it. Any Concept of Power explained through Anglo-European philosophies using inductive and deductive logic will suffer a great injustice. Power, as the concept, is best described as being Omni-radial, fluidic and trans-immanent throughout the cosmos. Conversely, human-derived symbols representing conceptual understandings of Power are created using intuitive logic.
Humans are only one part of the vast “Body of the Universe”, dependent on other parts. They are not, themselves, the center of a World. The people of Apalachicola recognize that their actions will affect other humans and all other things or beings--the animal nations, the plant nations and all sister and brother nations of every kind and species. Humans must not offend natural order, the innate Wisdom of Power. Restraint and respect are doors to joy and profundity of life. Humans are largely the authors of their own reward or punishment. Innate Wisdom or natural law may open a fault line, erupt a volcano or brew a storm; but that is another matter altogether--physical imperfection as a byproduct of Power's duality in fluctuation.
In summary, there are many important characteristics of Power: It is all encompassing, all-pervasive and permeates equally throughout the known universe, all its parts and even beyond. Power reacts toward, around, within and through all things equally in a level, unemotional manner characterized by steadiness. Power is self-preserving yet impersonal. It is without judgment, anger, forethought or partiality in any way except that which is expressed in the natural order of things, such as the selectivity of the strong over the weak or intellect over dumb muscle or brute force. Power is impersonal because of inherent equality. Inequality is found only in the user. Some say "Power reacts (to human activity), it never acts. This may be so. Take note that positive or negative effects result from a thing or being interacting with Power. It is not Power that determines if effects of that interaction will result positively or negatively. It is the innate characteristic of the thing or being reacted to that decides a positive or negative outcome. Humans are the only creatures who are aware of their own innate character and who have the knowledge or ability to alter their innate characteristics.
To Native Americans, innate character is central to all interactions with all things, especially Power. Impure containers contaminate. One use of ceremony and ritual is to alter innate character. It translates organized knowledge, needs, Power, knowledge about Power and the unknown into symbols. The symbols are then arranged according to the purpose at hand. Medicine people organize an appropriate and meaningful set of behavioral activities expressed through ceremony and ritual to free "Power" from the paradigm of symbols. Like Power, symbols expressing Power remain constant. Their meanings are position-specific and ever changing as understandings of the grammar of Power changes. The Kerrv, Hopoyv, and Medicine Maker’s role is more than a Translator of Power. Medicine people are also the Authors of that language--they help us alter our understandings and ourselves in unimaginable ways.
They are gatekeepers to a larger view. Some say this Power is One Above, symbolically called the Master of Breath, Creator, Ruler and Source. Others say that Power is not the Creator but merely an outflow from Creator who is beyond comprehension but not acceptance. There are also those who just say...Power is! Regardless of which view is held, Power is paramount to the people of Apalachicola. Power is the heart of things Muskogee. Many symbolic representations of Power, such as the Sacred Fire, the Sun, Mother Earth, and others, are discussed throughout this work. In the ancient aboriginal past, throughout the present and even for the future, Power fueled and fuels human capability. All humans, as beings with choice and a defining memory, use or misuse Power at all times. Humans have "Ascribed Power," such as life from birth and certain innate abilities. From that, we make ourselves into what we are through "Using Power," that is, "Achieved Power." In the Muskogee World, the ceremonial life around the Sacred Fire focuses this partnership and enlightens the symbols. This understanding is the foundation of Apalachicola Tribal Towns's beliefs, ceremonials, cosmology and philosophy; it is the source of life—our source of life.
THE SACRED FIRE,
SOURCE OF BALANCE AND HARMONY
People of the Eastern Creek tribal towns have a difficult road to travel. One side is modern America. On the other, ways brought down from the elders. Kunfuskee preserves old teachings--immense respect for life and the profound relationship of all things. The people mold these into a perspective that allows them to survive in today's world. Who can ignore televisions, automobiles, threats of global holocaust or computer regulated reality? Not everything ancient is accepted because Elders said and did things in certain ways. Ancient Elders' understandings were often imperfect, or more suited to their time and place. Consequently, some ancient practices die out; they are no longer needed or appropriate. Not everything modern is accepted either just because other people accept it. At times, this lesson has been difficult, but Apalachicola people have learned to pick and utilize what serves them, not what they must serve. Gently, they tread the road that divides two worlds, ancient and modern.
Ceremonies serve as guides and interpreters--road maps of life. They mark boundaries of existence and experience and provide models for interactions with each other and the outside world. Ceremonies meet many different needs. They change--not day to day or year to year, but over the flow of years, as needs, thoughts or understandings of participants change and grow. Ceremony is a living entity, a being with its own ways. Like any living thing, it is capable of growth, change, decay and even death. Ceremonies, as living beings, must travel the Fourfold Path of Life as do all living things: Infancy, Youth, Maturity and Old Age. Collectively, the entire year is treated as a larger ceremony. Years are divided into two parts--Summer and Winter, called working and resting seasons. In Summer are the awake ceremonies; in Winter are the sleeping or resting ceremonies. Summer gatherings are community oriented and therefore public. They take place at Square Grounds which are often just called the Square. The Apalachicola Square is a large circular clearing surrounded by the camps of the people.
It is centered around the Sacred Fire mound; four brush covered arbors mark the cardinal directions. The "Ball Play" is just to the west of the Square. In the NW corner rests the "Bird Mound." In addition to the public summer ceremonies, there are private ceremonies that belong to or are practiced by individuals, clans or families; they take place as needed with only appropriate participants attending. Summer gatherings consist of four major ceremonies interspersed with minor social and workday gatherings. All major ceremonies take place at the Square Ground and are centered around the Sacred Fire believed to represent both the heart of their existence and a living portal to the One Above. This Fire, the Earthly symbolic embodiment of One Above, is the true host at a Square. Apalachicola's yearly schedule of busk ceremonies mark and reflect life's four stages as they are experienced by all living things: an individual, a community, the Sacred Fire and even the Earth. Therefore, in Muskogee logic, the ceremonial year has its beginning with the Sacred Fire's new birth annually at the Green Corn Busks. All Summer ceremonies follow the same general structure with minor variations in form based on particular seasonal needs or emphasis deemed appropriate by the ceremonial leadership. The following brief discussion applies to all Summer ceremonies, with specific insights into individual gatherings.
Ceremonies now last about three to four days each for most of the community. Individuals with specific ceremonial functions are required to fast and undergo other private preparations for a period of four to twenty days before approaching the Square. Ceremonies are held the weekend nearest the seasonal New Moon to accommodate those who must travel far to attend nowadays. Originally, ceremonies occurred at the actual time of the New Moon. With all ceremonies, Thursday and Friday are gathering days. Family camps are set up, foods prepared, ball games held, ceremonial objects readied and friendships renewed with those who have come from afar. Gradually, people make the awesome transition from everyday life to the time-frame of a Square Ground where time moves much as it did hundreds of years ago according to Elders. Anthropologists who have visited Apalachicola and are familiar with literature about ancient times and practices always note a different type of time. Participants consider any time spent at a Square as sacred time. This time moves differently than modern time in everyday life. Its movement is not linear but cyclical.
At all ceremonies, a major event is the fast. The community grows together by fasting in unison. The individual is disciplined into re-acquainting with her or his inner self by fasting--one fasts to conquer body and mind. People dance. Several dances, danced several ways, provide endless variety. Footsteps dance downward into Mother Earth in unison; the community of believers moves as one body nursing at Mother Earth's breast. Individual showy stuff of pow wows is unwelcome behavior among these "people of the Fire" who seek oneness with Earth, not escape from it. All touch "Medicine" made from herbal plants given by Earth. People feel that if the Earth is made from One Above, source of all things, then within Earth are things special to One Above. These special things with their preventive and healing properties are contained in "Medicine." It is one's own physician-philosopher on call internally to maintain one's spiritual, mental and physical health!
Fasting, stomp dancing, and touching "Medicine" is followed by being ceremonially "scratched." This act of reciprocity to Mother Earth, a small portion of one’s own body which she has nourished each day of our life, is but a small gesture of our appreciation. The people hold that their blood is the only valuable thing they own; they freely give it. Scratching, held to be beneficial, purifies the body and strengthens the people. It promotes endurance and general health--it is always considered a "preventive" measure rather than a "curative" act. Most of all, it is communion with Mother Earth, One Above and the community, a recognition of all they share. Many Women note drops of blood always precede or accompany the inflow of Sacred Power. For men, could this ceremonial scratching with gar teeth or other needle-like implements be a form of communal male menses? Does shed blood signal purification? Are men now able to receive an infilling of Sacred Power--such life-giving or sustaining Power as Women possess? Some think so. (When ceremonial leaders or a group of men step inside the circular shell ring marking the boundaries of the Square Grounds, their female nature surfaces, a transformation of sorts.) Before and after scratching, Medicines are taken which cleanse both actually and symbolically. Through these actions all are purified, cleansed, and brought together in unity and oneness, that is, wholeness with Creator, the Source. With all now capable with Power, all may now safely peer through the "portal." In culmination, the community feasts, a great feast of Earth fruits. In thanksgiving for all that is and will be, the feast is first shared in portion with the Sacred Fire, center of all these activities and visible heart of the community.
Prior to breaking the fast, there is a strict separation between the sexes. As One Above is to Earth, so Women are to the Square, a model of earth; males represent creation. Women are Co-Creators with One Above, Source of nourishment. Through their ceremonial camp-keeping and cooking activities, Women do for men and children as One Above does for all things. Square Ground activities mirror Sacred Cosmic Order. Women also protect men by their separation. Uncleanliness is not implied but only a danger for men incapable of a brush with Creative Power as it flows through Women. The year begins by igniting a New Fire at Green Corn. The Old Fire is allowed to expire, that is, enter the sleep that follows life, on the ceremony eve. Into the old Fire is placed all that hurts and plagues them from the past year. They must attend the building of the New Fire with a clean heart, a clean mind, a cleansed body and a pure spirit.
This Fire is an infant; it must be cared for as such. The people are the parents of the infant Fire and must tend and feed it carefully, lovingly. The behavior of community members present toward the new Green Corn Fire sets the tone of its character for the year to come. As parents, they can raise a good child or a bad one. As Keepers of the Flame the whole community in large part authors its own future and determines the quality of its relationship with One Above and Power. Strengthened or weakened, the people are responsible: they make their own future.
Green Corn is associated first with the East and secondly with the South. Men of the South Arbor, which represents growing and learning, take the lead. East governs, that is, influences Life, Light, Wisdom and Knowledge; all are necessary for growth. Green Corn is where learning begins. Its emphasis is on the individual setting all things right in one's life. The date for Green Corn is the New Moon when the milk is in the first corn ripening on the stalks. Some Squares set their ceremonial date to fall on the Full Moon. Following Green Corn by two new Moons is Little Green Corn, recently called the Cold Busk. The Fire is now older. It is full of exuberance, strong and playful, like all things are in their youth. At this stage, the Fire does not require as much attention as it did in its infancy, but it seems to require more wood. In this growing stage, like all youth, the Fire requires much nourishment. Yet, it is also old enough and strong enough to return companionship, albeit sometimes playful. All refer to this Fire as brother or sister and consider each other as equals. Little Green Corn is the "coming together" of community in harmony and the growing of things together. It is associated primarily with the South and is often like an organized community carnival, a time to visit the Fire, to sit reverently at it, to learn, work, study, and play together. Each individual set things right at Green Corn. Now, dynamics are group oriented.
Late in the ceremonial year the matured Fire is strong and wise. Now considered our guardian parent, it cares for us. At this Fire all pay great attention to formal detail. This part of the yearly cycle is associated with the West which governs aspects of communal spirituality, reverence, holiness and life's end. It is a time of prophecy. Long periods of silence and inward quietness are required in order to hear its voice. The Fire's prophecy can be given individually to one ready to receive it. It may also be given formally through those associated with the West Arbor. Some years, public prophecy is not given. This is a time of preparation for winter, both internally and externally. Maturity is the most fruitful time in one's life. After winter’s long quietness, the people eagerly gather for Stickball, Squirrel Soup’s new start, and the First Dance which occurs in early spring. The dances held before Green Corn is the ending of the year for our fire. The spring months Fire is now considered to be an Elder, a grandmother or grandfather to the community. It is wise but very weak due to its age and for having borne the collective burdens of the people through the long winter.
All have an obligation to tend this Fire carefully. Old age is a sort of second infancy. It must be treated tenderly. Dry, easy-to-burn wood is fed to the Elder Fire. It mustn't expend too much energy or work too hard. The dances of the early year are considered the Fire has earned love and gained experience. This Elder deserves gentleness, quietness and respect--it has much to teach and we much to learn. Berry is a time of gardens and preparation. If planting has not already been done, it is accomplished now. Even though first dance is near the end of the year, seeds are already being planted to pave the way for next year's crop, both internally and externally. Ceremonial life is a circle, too. Seed transcends the seasons; clan and family overlap the generations of life. In this way, People of Apalachicola Tribal Towns experience the whole cycle of life in the ceremonial year. Birth, growth, maturity, death--all is experienced. These overlap in such a fashion that one is taught that balance and harmony exists throughout the cosmos. An internal balance and harmony reflected through the seasons by the ceremonial round is learned, too. It is the Nene Mvskoke, the Muscogee Way, the Sacred White Path of Peace.
The Ribbon Dance
THE RIBBON DANCE
*Footnotes appear at the end of this article
The people of all Eastern Creek square grounds regard women, the matriarchal tradition, and their Ceremonial Dance as one of their most important cultural elements of the community. In modern times, observers have reserved the English title "Ribbon Dance" for the women's main part in the Busk. Busks celebrate the renewal of life through public thanksgiving and fasting. A rite of spiritual cleansing, improvement and uplift, it remains today the most important event of many Tribal Towns, in Oklahoma and the Florida panhandle. Through the Busk, cosmic order is re-established, renewed and affirmed for the individual and the community. The word comes from Posketv5 which in Muskogee means "a fast" or "to fast." The Ribbon Dance is called Hoktvkë-Pvnkv, Woman's Dance or Hvse-Pvnkv, the Sun's Dance". By some, it is called Etske-Pvnkv, Mother's Dance or Hvketv-pvnkv.6
Kunfuskee accords women a unique status that belies the comments of earlier observers concerning the "servitude" position attributed them. In contemporary times and earlier, such a low station has never been the norm for our Hoktvkë7 (women). Once, Apalachicola even had women warriors who bested the Spaniards. It is our belief Woman was created first, then children and man last. First Woman arose from the union of Life and Earth, that is, from a bonding of the Spirit and Material. To citizens of traditional Tribal Towns, First Woman and all her female descendants (along with females of all species) stand closest to One Above, Master of Breath, Creator and Source, as Co-Creators of life. They are a continuum; they form an unbroken chain from One Above to us today. They are both the physical and spiritual conduit of Life.
Women, Co-Creators or Life-Carriers, are Power-laden8 by nature. They periodically withdraw during menses in order to exercise control, protection or restraint of their life-giving Power marked by menses. There is no feeling that they are dirty, unclean or polluted. Contamination is a misinterpretation by early observers unable to understand the concept of "too much Power" or beliefs that such Power might neutralize sacred objects by being too strong for an object's ability to contain it or for the user to control it. Men must be careful and not be exposed to more Power than they can handle; Woman protects Man! Menstruation is regarded as a periodic cleansing, renewing and strengthening, not only of woman, but all her male kin as well.9 At this time, there is a potential "in-flowing" of Power and strength; Creator is fully with her--Great is her responsibility, greater her obligation. During Busks, ritual is geared to need and not to some artificial time frame. Women, circling the Fire mound in the Town Square, draw the old year to a close. Their circling line cuts off the outside world and move the celebrants into an inward spiritual state. Their Dance joins the physical and spiritual planes. Through women, ceremonial grounds are cleansed and participants made ready for the reception of the New Year and New Fire, 10 a renewal of Power. For Kunfuskee Tribal Town, any New Year, new birth or renewal must begin with the women. Because women could create life, it was they who decided a prisoner's fate, too.
At the Blountstown Green Corn Busk, Turtle Dance11 occurs the first evening. Social dances, renewing of friendships, visiting and preparation for Fast Day on the morrow fill evening's remainder. Rest and sleep follow with an early rising mandated. Work begins immediately with sunrise. After preparing the Grounds for the forthcoming fast and celebration, ceremonial elements and their accompanying dances begin in earnest. The sounding of a conch shell trumpet from the Square Ground both announces and initiates sacred happenings now beginning, a sound welcome to the ears of the Kunfuskee people. Many Creek churches also retain the use of a shell horn to call their services to order. A low shell impregnated earthen ridge surrounds the ceremonial ground proper to demarcate the sacred from the common. 13 Some older rural churches in Creek country also exhibit a similar boundary created from sweepings of frequent yard cleanings.
The order of the Woman's Ribbon Dance varies from town to town. In some, it occurs as the only activity late in the first day, usually Friday, followed by the men's Feather Dance, Tafv-Sopvnkv, 14 on the next day. The Feather Dance occurs later the same day at some Squares. Several Grounds have incomplete cycles where the Ribbon Dance, Feather Dance or other major features are missing or only occur occasionally. It varies Busk to Busk at Kunfuskee and the other Apalachicola grounds, Ekvn Hvtke and Topv Cule, but at each Green Corn Dance, Ribbon Dance must precede the kindling of the New Fire, 15 which Apalachicola maintains for the whole year. Woman's life-giving and nourishing Power, circling the empty Fire Mound, is necessary to cleanse and purify the Grounds and make them ready to sustain the birth of the new Holy Fire which is regarded as One Above’s visible presence and abode in our midst. At the other three Busks, the Matriarch may choose the time and order of the Ribbon Dance.
As time nears for the Woman's Dance, older men (who are quite anxious by now) send two young Emarv, or sometimes known as Tvkpala16 from the South Arbor, bearing tall feathered wands of cane called Koha-hvtkë, Koha-tafv or Koh-tafv, 17 to call the women for their Dance. The First Call, as it is known, is totally ignored by the women, who continue with their own tasks of the moment. A short while later, these same men again move through the camps with wands in hand to give a Second Call to the women. Once again, they are ignored. In fact, at this point many of the women pretend to act annoyed while others merely turn their backs and giggle quietly. Some women do leave their camp tasks or other activities and begin unpacking their dresses and hang them up for all to see. Soon, men complete their preparations for the Busk. Tension and anxiety may be felt throughout all Hvpo, the camps, in sacred anticipation. Two Tvkpala course the boundaries a third time with the feathered canes. This time, they are careful to encircle the entire Paskofv18 or Dance Ground, Ball Post and all campsites.
At this Third Call, women often act agitated and occasionally shout at the camp criers. They've been known to chase them from campsites or threaten to hurl nearby objects at them, in mock seriousness. However, immediately after the third pass, women drop whatever they are doing and hurry to dress. 19 Each woman hurries to be the first ready; this brings luck to her family. No woman dares dress before Third Call for fear of being regarded most unpleasantly. The thought of being last to dress is equally disconcerting, although no one seems to know why. Each woman, therefore, helps the other. No one announces "I'm ready!" until each dancer is ready. When fully attired, women sometimes respond in unison, "I am ready!" No woman was last. All were prepared at the same time. Now, each household, through the women, shares luck for the New Year. This is typical of the way things should be done at Apalachicola; unfortunately not all things work as such.
Men are careful not to send the Fourth Call until sure that all participants are ready. As the last Call rolls loudly through the Town, Dancers quickly tie on Shakers, leg rattles that sound so crisp as feet meet Earth in the rhythm of the Dance. This last act of readiness [attaching Shakers] produces cascades of Ribbon and a sudden quietness throughout the camps. Only two sounds are noticeable: one, the sharp report of the Shakers and the vocalic prayers chanted across the Square Ground.20 Men quickly take their seats according to their position, rank or appointment. Not only do women dress for this Dance, but men are required to don their finest traditional shirts and sashes as well. Men must also rise and stand respectfully to honor all women in the Ribbon Dance as the file of Dancers passes their Arbor. Visitors are asked to accord the same respect from their appointed places. Loose animals are tied. What is a Native American camp without dogs underfoot? Disregard or interruption of this Dance by anyone, Native American or visitor, results in swift punishment or a heavy fine. Rude or unpleasant people are asked to leave or, are forcibly escorted from the grounds. A sacred moment approaches!
Among true devotees, the sight of free flowing Ribbons causes a sudden change from hustling mundane activities to a deep reverential quietness of hushed expectation. Symbolically, Ribbons preserve strong cultural memories from the past. Ribbons collectively represent war trophies, great accomplishments, personal battles and cherished moments. Various colors and lengths of Ribbon hold personal significance for the participants and their relatives.21 these personal associations aren't shared outside the family or local female community; they're not even shared with men. They are forever the woman's private domain. It is not unusual for a man to ask a woman to wear a Ribbon for some special petition of his own. This request obligates the man, or men of the Town, to offer a gift to the Dancer or someone she designates. The most common gifts are first Tobacco, then cloth, beads, ornaments, food or other items. Any, or all, may be offered to a Dancer or to all women participating.22
At the Apalachicola grounds, Ribbons are visible memories that a woman wears; they help to keep alive and preserve her family history. Women of some Creek Towns no longer attribute any special meaning to this Dance or the Ribbons beyond a "That's the way we have always done it" attitude. Many women have used the same Ribbons since their first Dance, replacing them only when they have frayed severely through repeated use. A few women use new Ribbons at each Busk. A Ribbon not to be worn again is carefully halved during Nettv Kvckv, 23 the "Broken Days" preceding the New Fire. The bottom end [worldly portion] is split to "kill" or deactivate the special sacred characteristics assumed through usage. The bottom half and all it represents, is consigned to the family's individual cooking fire or the Square Ground Fire. The upper portion is frequently divided up, with the following dispositions commonly noted:
1. A portion may go into a woman's personal bundle, that collection of spirit laden objects to be passed on eventually to the younger generation with all their connected stories and events. A key word or phrase is often written on the Ribbon to aid memory. 24
2. An upper portion, or a piece of it, may be given to a relative or close friend unable to participate that year. It may also be hung in the room where the woman spends most of her time. Occasionally, it is hung above the entrance most frequently used.
3. A portion is often buried with some member of the community when death occurs. Any undesignated portion is interred with the woman or tied (nailed) to the southeast corner post of the Square or the ball post after the last dance in fall.
Whether kept or distributed, the bottom portion of every Ribbon, that part which reaches into the active daily world is destroyed by Fire when it is to be used no longer. Fire is a purifier, an active agent of One Above, Master of Breath, Creator and Source. There are additional attachments, associations and deep memories attributed to these ornaments of the Woman's Dance; women refuse to discuss these beyond the close circle of the East Arbor.
There are several styles of dress traditional to this occasion. The Apalachicola garment is always made of two pieces: skirt and blouse after the Seminole or Sakeyv (Sauk & Fox) fashion, or yoke and dress similar in manner to the neighboring Cahtv (Choctaw). Any yoke dress would have a ruffle trim. The material from which all ceremonial clothing is made is also regulated by tradition, especially the colors or calico prints used, but that's material for another article. Occasionally, a cape is worn over an under dress which resembles modern Florida Seminole attire. Older women have suggested several possible reasons for the requirement that calico ceremonial dresses be of two distinct pieces. Two pieces may represent the spiritual and material worlds by top and bottom parts. The division into Red and White Towns may be signified. The all-pervasive Muskogean duality may be the reason: summer and winter seasons, youth and maturity, life and death, or other couplets may be symbolized. The old clan moieties may be remembered by the two pieces. "Because that's how it's always been done" may be the real reason for this practice. Of course, this dress survives from the common clothing worn by American in 1800s.
Ornamentation is often cut-fold ribbon work or broad patterned patchwork like that which adorns the traditional man's shirt. No rule seems to govern footwear other than personal comfort. Shoes, sneakers, moccasins, and bare feet are all seen. Most women and young ladies wear aprons during the Dance. There is a pattern to apron wearing. Mothers always wear them; young girls almost never wear aprons. With young women in their teens, apron wearing begins after first menses or some related criteria of their own clan that is not openly discussed. Dressed with final touches of colorful Ribbon, Dancers not forbidden to enter the Square for ceremonial reasons gather in the “near” Arbor, 25 reserved for women, children, and guests. In many towns women are not provided a designated Arbor inside the ring; they assemble on the edge of their Square, both ways can be found among the Apalachicola Grounds. 26 From Third Call until final assembly, seldom more than twenty-five minutes (Indian time) elapses. After this Call, a man is sent to sweep the Arbors, including posts and benches, with an herbal brush or gall berry broom. Women help each other get shakered and be-ribboned. Last minutes are a flurry of colorful activity. At her place, a woman often appears with a fresh sprig of Willow or Sweet Gum in her left hand. All men quickly gather around the Square in their own finery. They are now anxious for the whole proceedings; anxious that all go well and nothing be omitted. The entire Town listens intently to prayers being intoned by Este-vcake, 27 the Beloved One, or others from the West Arbor, Mekko-emtopv. 28
An ancient Atasse, 29 a ceremonial flint, reminiscent of a war club or the flint blade used to sever umbilical cords, is procured from the Town's Ceremonial or Medicine Bundle, a collection of sacred objects ancient and recent. Placed before the assembled women, it is rested on the ground in front of the Arbor; it is never handed directly to Emv, or First Woman, as the Matriarch of the Dance is called. Other objects to be used are laid out, too. Occasionally, some or all the other women carry miniature wooden blades of a gray-green color in the Dance; no rule is publicly mentioned concerning these. Men and women must be careful not to come into physical contact with each other during this time; this separation is to be maintained throughout the Busk from sunrise until after the Fast is broken. 30 In this, Apalachicola is more lax than it should be nowadays.
An appointed Town Speaker, the Mekko Tvlvrwv, 31 usually of the North Arbor, approaches the assembled women to deliver a short address in quiet tones. Women are thanked for their participation in the Busk. They are praised for their Power with which they imbue the Town by their Dance, for bringing the cleansing purity of the Sun to sanctify the grounds and for the real comfort they bring the community. Dancers are charged with keeping clean hearts, pure thoughts and remembering the needs, hope, prayers and thanksgivings of the Town during their ceremonial dance. Other charges or commendations may also be given at this time; the general community is not privy to these more quietly spoken words intended for the Woman's Arbor alone. Dancing is ordered by seniority: oldest to youngest. Years which see large numbers of Dancers adhere tightly to the age rules; in years with very few Dancers, the line up is more informal. Young girls at the end of the line often supply quiet amusement as they fall behind and struggle with their shorter legs to keep up the vigorous pace. Rare exceptions to the order of oldest to youngest are babes-in-arms and, occasionally, very special visitors who are being honored, are invited to dance. They may dance in line behind their hostess. 33
The woman chosen to lead, First Woman, is always exempt from the seniority rule. She represents women collectively. However, she is normally the Matriarch or oldest woman kin of the male leader capable of dancing. She initially takes her place at the head of the Dancers and then stays one Arbor ahead of the other women. Her second, called the Leading Lady, heads the actual dancing line. In recent years, the dance leadership has rotated among several women, many of whom do not share a blood lineage. How these are chosen and by what criteria, are never spoken of beyond the bounds of the women's East Arbor. After the Speaker, has completed his address to the women, he returns to his Arbor by way of the Fire, where he makes an offering of Tobacco. Sometimes the women may direct him toward some special purpose in his offering.
When the Speaker is seated, the two Tvkpala step from the South Arbor and circle the Paskofv one time; other South Arbor men have carefully sprinkled the ground with water and herbals, especially if the day promises to be hot, dry, and dusty. The two Tvkpala stop at the edge of the Woman’s line and face around the circle clockwise; they have now become forward protective honor guards for the women and are called First Children. In some years, the Tvkpala draw two guidelines to mark the dancers' path; they also line the "crossing place." Viewed from above, one sees the shape of the Wheel of Life where women's feet will tread happily for their Tribal Town and all its citizens. The same pattern can be seen in the placement of Tobacco on the Fire Mound at the Green corn Busk. First Woman, Matriarch of the Dance, takes her place before her Arbor, the signal for the line- up. She is followed by her second, Leading Lady, who will actually lead the line of Dancers. Since the Speaker's talk, the grounds have been quiet. There is now only the sound of Shakers as the other women step into line in their appointed order. The women now face outward, towards the Sun, with their backs to the cooled cleaned Fire Mound, where the New Fire will soon be kindled. 34 Women are vehicles of Life and Light via the Sun35 and One Above; they give birth and renewal to all things.
When all are ready, The Tvkpala (who previously cleared the grounds for the Dance) proceed counter clockwise with a lively running step to the next Arbor. They turn back toward the line of women and pause, facing the Dance lineup. First Woman, who has now turned to her left, advances toward the Tvkpala with a light walking step called the "old woman's pace." One by one, the line of Dancers begin a kick step matching the sturdy step begun by Leading Lady in place. Each woman takes up the step and turns leftward behind Leading Lady. They will follow Leading Lady who will guide the line of Dancers on the path marked by the First Woman after the Tvkpala. First Woman advances with her pacing step to the next arbor, stops and faces the Fire until the line of dancers reach the edge of that arbor; she then turns and quickly moves on to the next arbor. Often, Tvkpala are one arbor ahead of this first matron of the dance. In some years, they are all one behind the other. Of course, other procedures prevail at other grounds; each Square keeps council with its own traditions.
Slowly - methodically - rhythmically, the line moves out around the path set by the Tvkpala and First Woman, each of whom continues an Arbor ahead of the other. Many women have expressed the belief that these Tvkpala represent the children brought forth by the original First Woman. For this reason, the women sometimes present gifts to these two after the Dance. Following the path set by the honor guards and First Woman, the Leading Lady and her Dancers move in ever quickening pulsating unison around the Square. Sometimes the two men draw marks in the ground to count the rounds. At other times, small sticks, used for keeping ball game scores, are placed in front of the Chief's Arbor to mark the rounds. Each round produces its own distinct rhythm from variations in dance steps chosen for that course.
After a set of four rounds, First Woman stops and turns to face the front of the Arbor at its northern end. She waits for Leading Lady and the Dancers to move up next to her. The line dances in place facing her. She raises high the Atasse in her hand. At this high signal, women execute four small jumps; then swiftly, First Woman cuts downward with the blade on the last jump. The women respond with the exclamation "Huh!" or "Hae!" The women turn outward (to the East) toward the Sun's door again. 36 They stand and rest in place a few brief moments. Usually, if a longer a break is to occur at this point. First Woman takes her seat, followed by the others in order. The Tvkpala then return to their seats. Fresh water containing sprigs of crushed mint is now served to the women by a South Arbor Vfvstv (attender) appointed to the task. After women, the entire Town may now take water if they're part of the assembly on the Square Ground.
Some years, eight rounds are accomplished before a seated rest. If eight rounds are to be concluded the Tvkpala stop after four rounds until all have rested a few moments and taken water in place. Then, they turn toward the dance path and step forward. First Woman turns and follows. Women catch their step again from Leading Lady and four more rounds are completed. After eight rounds, a seated rest is required in order to break the Dance into the two required distinct parts37 (four sets are the ancient preference). Each round or set varies in its own tempo, the dance steps executed, the jumps or intensity according to the particular goals of the Dance set by the Matriarch or Town.
The last round is always the most invigorated. During the next to last round, a movement peculiar to Apalachicola is executed. The Tvkpala continue in their regular journey, but First Woman crosses from the North to the South Arbor, completely encircling the Fire Mound on the way. Leading Lady and her line of Dancers proceed in their usual circular path at the outer edge of the Square. All become joined again at the South Arbor in proper order and continue on for the last round. On the last circuit around the Square, First Woman crosses from the West Arbor to the East, again completely encircling the Fire Mound as she goes. The pattern produced on the ground by this regimen is that of the Muskogee knot, often called the Wheel of Life.
First Woman stops - Dancers stop - four jumps - a shout - it is finished. Women rest from their last set. Singularly or in groups, women approach the Fire Mound to leave their Willow or Sweet Gum to be consumed in the Sacred New Fire. Most seal their prayers and thanks by sprinkling Tobacco, the visible "mvto," onto the Mound or later into the Fire when it is kindled and brought to life. Some men then go onto the Square to leave an offering in the Fire. The Long Dance or a Stomp Dance usually follows immediately. 38 Preparations for Ribbon Dance are quiet and reverent; women continue this attitude into the Dance, itself. Often, they enter a deep prayerful state, laden with burdens of the past year. They believe in themselves as Co-Creators and Sanctifiers. The men believe they are, too. In spite of the seriousness, men of the community are allowed to openly tease women during the first few rounds, a privilege they frequently exercise. Often, men shout "Hvce"39 at those near the end of the line. Hvce means "tail" in Creek. As the rounds proceed, all teasing halts. Men not finely dressed by the first rounds hasten to become so attired at once. Across the Square, subdued emotions reflect the deep importance of this simple but powerful Dance. Tears are not unusual among participants and observers. Throughout the encircling rounds, a heavy feeling lifts as the old year and all its burdens wither. To be a Woman of an Apalachicola Tribal Towns is to be Special...
On the last night of the old year, people sprinkle Tobacco into the now dying Old Fire with prayers of thanksgiving and a vow to forgive wrongs, make amends for errors40 and practice better lives. Much thought is required--easily spoken promises are promises not easily kept. Encircling the ashes or cleaned mound of the now extinguished Fire that had burned since the previous Green Corn, the Dance ends the old year. That Fire had grown old, weak and weary; it had become heavily polluted carrying burdens of the people. This pollution had been made complete on the last day of the old year by the custom of placing in the consuming Flames, dregs from households, yards, and larders. [Some new items are often given to the dying Old Fire representing a sense of sacrifice by a people taught to own things and not to be owned by things.] For the Apalachicola Creeks, the Fire is the final recipient of all worldly things of Town life. With the Fire's death on the last night of the old year, also occur the deaths of all mundane wrongs and of the old year itself. The building of the New Fire on the day of the Woman's Dance is a new beginning, a time of renewal and rebirth. Wood is physical; flame is spiritual.
Body is physical; life is spiritual. An extinguished flame can be kindled anew. A body is perishable, the spirit is not. Like flame, it is rekindled each year. In Apalachicola's view, wood is not just consumed to ash to be no more. It is transformed by Fire into heat and radiant light! The New Fire is not born strong enough to carry the Town's burdens through the New Year unless its foundation is empowered by the Woman's Dance. Medicine doctoring treatment, passing Breath of the Master of Breath to the Fire through Corn sacrifice, represents only half the necessary action. The Square remains defiled until women have encircled it. As they do so, all old things become entrapped, brushed aside, or destroyed by Woman's creative life-giving Power that She brings to Her Town from One Above, the Creator and Source.
As women face Sunward and turn inward, they bring to the Square, the purity, Power and sacredness of the Sun, perfect symbol for Perfect Creator, Sun is the Hand and Eye of One Above. The New Fire of Green Corn is Sun's Little Brother; it is Grandson to One Above and Grandfather to us. 41 Awesome is our responsibilities in this matter. Women are agents of Light; they conduct strength from the Upper [spiritual] World to the Earth. With or without child, they are universally Mothers, nourishes and sustaining life. They are necessary. Woman gives man strength, courage, and the purified state necessary to tend New Fire duties. New Fire is the materially symbolic residence of One Above, Creator and Source. The Fire is One Above’s physical home in the midst of the community; each heart is an individual spiritual residence. Like a child that becomes an adult, the Fire grows to immense strength. Though mortals did kindle it, a mortal still must be bolstered in order to properly approach and care for this Earthly dwelling place of Ohfvnkv, the One Above. 42 So sacred is Creator's Fire in the Town's regard that no one would dare to willingly let a personal shadow fall between Fire and Sun to perchance interrupt that mystical unseen, powerful intra-family communion between Father Spirit and Mother Earth--our elders, our parents. 43
Words can only hint at what The People of Apalachicola experience emotionally and acknowledge while women dance in their flowing Ribbons. As the Dance draws to a close at the last round, one feels the full emotional trauma of all events of the past being drawn into one moment. Time crystallizes into a single point and place, visible to all. With the final jump at the end of that last round, that crystallized sequence of time is shattered. It is no more! The past, with all its profaned associations, is disarmed, cast aside. Expended, it no longer controls us. Now, there is no tension, only peace. At the last step of the Dance a great shout goes up from people. "Mvto! It is well done!"44 A woman circling a little plot of cleared earth, the actual Dance, is a simple affair simply executed. Results are complex, powerful and sustaining, anything but simple. Soon, it is over. Women sit or stand quietly in a reflective moment. The Speaker removes the Atasse and other implements carried in the Dance. They are returned to the Medicine Bundle. Broadened smiles flood weary faces. One at a time or in groups, women now approach the Fire Mound and offer their sprigs of Willow or Sweet Gum, symbols of life and growth. They say a prayer and return to their Arbor. These prayers will ascend with the first white smoke of the forthcoming New Fire.
Even first time observers of this dignified but simple Dance, who don't fully grasp the ritual significance or understand the symbology, never fail to note and experience the inexplicable peace that radiates throughout the Tribal Town. It concludes with family hugs and handshakes from female to female. Happy New Year! Good wishes are shouted everywhere. The Busk proceeds smoothly with peaceful anticipation. Even the Scratching Ceremony will be relaxed. Woman has completely fulfilled herself. Men are brimful too. It is our way! It is Nenë Mvskokë, The Muskogee Road.45
Ribbon Dance Notes:
1. Apalachicola is the English name for the Tvlwv Rakko Apalachicola Tribal Town, an ancient group of towns of Hitchiti roots. The name “Apalachicola Tribal Town”, was used in the 1970's for their ceremonial grounds now located near Blountstown, Florida--part of the ancestral homeland, though each daughter of Old Apalachicola has a common name, some of those now in existence are Kunfuskee. Topv Cule (Gadsden County, Florida) and Ekvn Hvtke, aka White Earth, ones used formerly include Oak Hill, Fus-hatchee, and Hvlpvtv. Apalachicola is the Town where the Great Creek Confederacy was forged. Formerly the capitol, it was called Big Capital or the Mother Town. Their supremacy was lost due to violations of the Blood Law. See the related articles, for details in addition to John R. Swanton (1928) or Angie Debo’s 1941 work. Albert S. Gatschet's, A Migration Legend of the Creek Indians, gives an account as well. The writings of William Barthram and Creeks and Seminoles, by Leitch Wright provide additional in depth information. The most recent and compelling research is by Richard Saunders Milner. It may be found on the web at:
2. Being designated a log bearer isn't necessarily an award or recognition. Occasionally, a less than honorable man is selected for this duty because some older woman may perhaps feel the individual is in need of a spiritual awakening, challenge or cleansing. It is her intent to present the Creator an opportunity for such work. These choices may seem paradoxical but do represent spiritual purposes or needs beyond the full knowing of this community. The whole procedure is a mystery to most men folk. Women intend to keep it that way. Much symbolism is at work here. It reflects the Female-Male duality associated with creation, new life and renewal. Why do women have such an important role in this aspect of Busk? Symbolically, Earth is the embodiment of Motherhood; trees are Earth's Daughters. The Sacred Fire, one embodiment of Creator, has largely Male associations. The four specially selected ceremonial logs are "Daughters of the Town's Women." Log bearers for the New Fire are their "husbands." A mother’s concern is always for her daughter. Symbolic duality is a constant. The macrocosm and microcosm continuously reflect and represent each other symbolically but seldom at the same time.
3. Towns were originally located near good water-hence, the origin of the English name, Creeks. Each morning men and boys arose and bathed in a designated place upstream from the community. Women bathed down steam from the settlement due to modesty and menses concerns. The modern Apalachicola Squares were not situated near viable water. On ceremonial days women (acting on behalf of Mother Earth), prepared a tub of water in the East (the stream), in which men then splashed in a symbolic bathing. If women needed some special task from the men such as more split stove wood, extra meat or other needs, they placed twigs, flower petals or some other common symbol in the water. After you bathed, you were obligated to ask women, through the female leadership, if there were needs to be met or things you could do to assist their ceremonial duties. Bathing was not required if a sweat had occurred the previous evening or if you lived close or camped out in a nearby motel. The tub has seldom awaited men since 1980s. There is an adjacent but unsafe stream at White Earth Ceremonial Grounds. A Town goal of White Earth for 20 years has been to raise $4,100 to build a shower house with toilet facilities. Most now travel long distances to attend Busks and camp at the grounds. A decent shower facility would be appreciated by all!
4. Such a state is difficult to enter into and maintain. Nowadays, traditional Creek women must live in two distinct worlds. One world is of old Creek Ways adapted, preserved and practiced through the Busk. The other world is contemporary America. A Creek woman active in her ceremonial Town works to an extreme during Busks. Her roles are the most important, her actions the most critical to a successful Busk. What women do over cooking fires or in the cooking pots, has far reaching consequences for an entire Town. All men should more openly appreciate their vital role. Please refer to related essay The Fire, Source of Balance and Harmony, for a full definition of the woman’s Busk role as an agent for Creator.
5. Posketv (BOHS-gih-duh): a fast, to fast. Also as Pvsketv (BUHS-gih-duh).
6. Hoktvkë, Women; Pvnkv from Opvnkv, Dance (HOHK-duh-gee BUHN-guh), Hvse-Pvnkv (HUH-zhee BUHN-guh), Etske-Opvnkv (IHDS-gee oh-BUHN-guh), Also as Eckë or Etckë (IHJ-gee, IHDJ-gee).
7. Hoktvkë (HOHK-duh-gee, hohk-DUH-gee): women, plural of Hoktë (HOHK-dee), woman.
8. When we use the word "Power," it is capitalize as an attribute of Creator, One-Above.
9. In earlier times, women had a special abode for use during menstruation and childbirth. According to Dr. Ruth Underhill in Red Man’s Religion (pp 52-53), they regarded this time as a holiday - both a relief from hard work and a "Holy" day. Women took great pleasure in teasing men who came too close to the enclosure's established boundaries. Most Indian women no longer live apart during this time. Traditional Creek women do not prepare food or touch men's personal implements during their episodes. They observe other quiet customs unnoticed by their non-Indian neighbors. The Institute of West Florida Archeology, under the direction of Dr. Judith Bense and Dan T. Penton, excavated evidence of a woman's separation hut in 1991 near the port of Panama City, Florida. Apparently, it was used for birthing and menses activities. The excavated architectural features and recovered flint blades precisely matched those in current use at Apalachicola’s White Earth Tribal Town for cutting umbilical cords. Although located at the edge of a ceremonial site, none of these features had been previously recognized in other excavations due to a broad lack of knowledge about native women lifestyles and associated objects. College students, local volunteers, Apalachicola and Seminole families participated as fieldwork volunteers at this and other area excavations. It was they who immediately recognized the feature and associated artifacts. Careful research further verified their statements.
10. Apalachicola grounds follow two distinct ceremonial Calendars, both older than those in use by other Tribal Towns, though only one is apparent to the undiscerning eye. One is terrestrial and the other, celestial-the New Year and the New Fire respectively. Most Muscogee Towns only follow one calendar and to celebrate one annual Busk, The Green Corn Ceremony. Other ceremonies called Stomp Dances precede and follow their Busks, generally monthly, depending on that years schedule and events. Apalachicola is matriarchal and governed as such in daily life and agricultural pursuits-that is, in elements directed by the terrestrial calendar, women dominate. The celestial calendar governs hunting, Busks and other masculine pursuits; thus, ceremonial decisions rest largely with the male leadership. Busk are held for males and dominated by male leadership. Scholars studying these phenomena say this accounts for the differing ceremonial order and particular emphasis followed throughout its Busks. Apalachicola's dual ceremonial and agricultural calendrical structure is older than corn's introduction into the South. It reflects both a woman dominated agricultural society and the male dominated hunting and gathering organization. Apalachicola's social order, status ranking and other societal markers' reflect the same female-male division seen in its agricultural and ceremonial calendars that govern the turning of the year and the turning of life. Maintaining balance and flexibility is a Muscogee benchmark, one the people of Kunfuskee are well acquainted with.
11. Apalachicola is not aware of another Tribal Town maintaining the Turtle Dance cycle except for the Yuchi. Here, where Turtle Clan (aligned with Alligator Clan) furnishes major ceremonial leadership, Turtle Dance has deep spiritual associations and is performed most reverently. The Creation Story "How All Things Came to be" explores this historic philosophy. Several Turtle stories are included, too.
12. In many churches, a cow horn has replaced the hard-to-find conch shell horns in Oklahoma. For an interesting comparison of cultural practices shared by traditional and church people, refer to the article Indian Baptist Church by Sharon Fife (Sharon Fife Mouse) found on the internet. It was first published by the Chronicles of Oklahoma in the 1970-1971 Winter Quarterly
13. The name Apalachicola (Apalachicola) is derived from this low ridge found around most tribal Square Grounds. Few, other than the Apalachicola, still require the use of shell to mark sacred space. Shells are also an integral part of most historic North Florida Creek gravesites. Engraved shell and copper are still common grave offerings in this area. Apalachicola often provides such offerings for reburials of excavated Native American remains in Florida. A full complement of such grave ware by local craft workers accompanied the Crystal River Mound reburial in 1987.
14. Nowadays, many in Oklahoma call this dance Setahvyv-Opvnkv.
15. The Sacred Fire at Apalachicola burns 365 days. Once ignited, it is nurtured, maintained, protected and sheltered for the whole year without being allowed to go out. At most ceremonies, except Green Corn, women prefer to start feast preparations early in the day. They can do this because the New Fire already exists from Green Corn. Men transfer the Sacred Flames from their keeping place to the Fire Mound and the women's stoves or cook Fires. Women begin their sacred work. They send word to the Speaker when they wish to start their Dance. Men perform their own duties, dances and other obligations until women send word to "Call" the Ribbon Dance.
16. Tvkpala (duk-bah-lah): a disciplinarian or prompter; literally, "one who moves among them," or "makes them stir." The role of "whip" or "tail twister" is filled by young men learning the ceremonial duties of their station. As a war-title, Tvkpala, Emara or Maro means or indicates "Reliable Leadership." Occasionally, these young emissaries are called Tepalv (dih-BAH-luh)or Twisters, because they seem to turn around often during Busk and the dances. Or, they may be called Em-puhvtv Cuko-vfastv (ihm-boo-HAH-duh joo-GOH uh-FAHS-duh) deacon, overseer, "those who make the dance go."
17. Koha (GOH-hah): cane, river cane; Koha-Tafv (GOH-hah DAH-fuh) feathered wand or cane; not the same as Rawv or Rvp Rvkko (Thlop-thlocco, H'lop h'lock-koh), the larger red cane used for blow guns. It is also the name of an important Tribal Town, "Thlopthlocco," also called "Big Town." Many believe it to be an original daughter town to old Apalachicola according to Remus Cook, Tallahassee, and Rueben Cook, Thlopthlocco.
18. Paskofv (bahs-GOH-fuh): swept clearing used as a fasting place; the Square Ground; Hvpo (HUH-poh): camp.
19. If a woman appears genuinely angered, out of sorts, rude, bitter or unhappy, other women or the ceremonial leaders quietly put her aside or try to send her away from food preparations. A pot stirred by such a person will embitter or sicken all who eat from it to some degree--so it is said. In all things Tribal, the common weal, not the individual's weal, comes first.
20. Shakers were formerly made of Turtle shells or dew claws. Many women now use milk, juice or snuff cans. This community is forbidden to take a Turtle's life. In the past, we traded for Turtle shells. Southern states no longer have other traditional Towns to occasionally gift us with a set of Turtle Shakers in exchange for crafts and herbs picked in our locale. Our southern Seminole relatives largely use can shakers, too. Few of either community now own Turtle Shakers. At White Earth Apalachicola, the Town itself, and not individuals, own primary ceremonial equipment. At Kunfuskee Turtle Shakers are individually owned.
21. Local tradition holds that in ancient times, perhaps in the "Mexico Days," Muskogees were a most cruel and vengeful lot. After a battle or war campaign, whole heads, scalps or other grisly trophies were brought home. Women adorned themselves with this bloody plunder and danced most savagely. At some unknown point in our collective history, the four original Teachers, the Hvyahvlkë, Hvyayvlkë [Beings of Light] revisited and re-instructed the people. An understanding of a real inward peace came to be known. Over time, our understanding grew with the ever-increasing light of One Above’s Sacred Fire. The woman's gruesome war-trophy dance gave way to a celebration of Life, Light, Wisdom, Renewal and Knowledge. Ribbons replaced death trophies and women ascended to their full responsibilities as "Co-Creators," "Life Givers" and "Nourishers." From this past, Ribbon Dance evolved into today's celebration of hope, joy and peace. Dean C. Engstrom, who has studied Apalachicola musical traditions since the 1970's, hypothesizes that dance traditions of early Spanish colonizers may be responsible for the modern use of ribbons. Ornamental use of ribbon is prominent in the Morris Dance (Moor’s) traditions of some early Spanish and other European invaders.
22. Anciently, a woman dancing by a man at stomp dances gave him a small carved or decorated stick or other emblem with her clan sign on it; within the same moon, he could redeem his trinket for a meal. In later times she gave him a quarter. Unfortunately, for single males, these practices have fallen into severe disuse just when "two-bits" and a good free meal are hard to come by! But, if you received no token you got a definite opinion, too!
23. Nettv Kvckv (NIHT-duh GUHG-guh): Broken Days. A twenty-day period preceding Busk is observed. The name comes from the 20 small sticks sent out as the "day counters" marking the ceremonial preparation period before a Busk encampment. These were sent from the Mother Town to all the outlying areas. One stick was broken to mark each passing day. At Apalachicola, the sticks are reddened. Their manufacture and distribution is the responsibility of the Tvstvnvke Rakko or someone appointed by him. From these sticks comes the origin of the phrase "Red Sticks."
24. Except for "medicine" practitioners, Apalachicola Families at White Earth AND Kunfuskee, and some Florida Seminole Families, are the only remaining Muskogee who regularly continue the practice of maintaining Clan or Family Bundles in association with Busks.
25. Women physically unable to dance for non-ceremonial reasons sit in the East as the Dance unfolds. If physically possible, they walk slowly at the end of the line on the last round of the third set or the first round of the fourth set. Women in menses do not enter or even approach the Square Grounds. They remain in their appointed retreat or behind some established boundary.
26. In fact, Tribal Town Squares come in a variety of architectural arrangements. Many have only three Arbors. Some have two, one or none. A couple, including Kunfuskee Ceremonial Grounds, have a fifth Arbor just at the edge of the grounds from where their Ribbon Dancers emerge and return. See Swanton, 1928, for complete diagrams of all major Creek and Seminole Town Squares. Swanton also revisited the Oklahoma squares in the 1930's and published a set of revised diagrams.
27. Este-vcake (ihs-DEE uh-JAH-gee): a Beloved One; a wise experienced elder of good heart, sound learning and richly steeped in tradition. The Este-vcake are the final earthly authority, judge in all matters temporal and the a check on Makers of Medicine and Mekkos. This term applies to both the female matriarch and male patriarch.
28. Mekko-emtopv (MIHK-goh ihm-DOH-buh): The King's arbor
29. Atasse (ah-DAHZ-she) also Vtvse (uh-DAHS-zhee): a ceremonial flint knife, war club, scalping knife and the blade used to sever an umbilical cord. If metal is used to free a child from the mother at birth, the child will most likely die by metal (lead bullets?), or so it is said in Apalachicola's oral tradition.
30. One should not even scratch an itch directly during this time but should use a small stick or twig to accomplish the need. One definitely does not physically touch another during those hours when mind, body, spirit and soul are each being separately readied for renewal. To do so is to risk personal contamination or discomfort that in turn, may pollute the Town and weaken its Fire.
31. Opunayv (oh-bu-NAH-yuh, oh-BU-nah-YUH): Speaker, also em-punayv. Sometimes, this role is called the Tongue, Tvlaswv, or the chief's second or twin.
32. However, indiscriminate invitations for visitors to participate are discouraged--disaster may result. The Town may be severely affected by visitors' hidden or unworthy attributes. This may inadvertently bring negative forces to bear on the New Fire or Sacred Bundle. This is a very difficult concept to communicate, especially to casual Creek participants who come from non-traditional homes and who don't fully grasp the powerful significance or the deadly consequences of such action. Damage to Apalachicola's internal spiritual structure could result from improper proximity of menstrual blood, pregnancy or other woman borne Powers "intruded upon the Busk" by visitors. Creek women who practice traditional ways are careful not to come in contact with ceremonial leaders, cooking fires or sacred areas. Medicine Bundles, their holders or other men could suffer dreadful consequences or some spiritual weakening. Previously, a woman new to the community sat out several Busks before participating in Ribbon Dance. In the mid 1980's, Town members not well versed in their own history or ceremonial practices began bringing others into the dance. Many problems have come out of this but current elders see no way to undo the damage without causing greater damage in the area of human interaction. Restraint must be exercised regarding these easily tendered dance invitations to visiting women. Busk activities, other than Ribbon Dance, are not as critical or potentially damaging. Visitors are welcome in these. Desire and interest alone are not enough; worthiness must be considered, too. The future of Apalachicola depends on wise adherence to these ancient and effective traditions that have sustained and nourished the community over the centuries. Appropriate visitors are traditionally an integral part of Busks. However, Busks are not "show and tell" stuff. They are deeply moving spiritual experiences that Apalachicola is willing to share under proper circumstances. [Please take no offense for this digressive paragraph. It is important for the reader to understand this about Apalachicola's collective beliefs and ancient ceremonial traditions that have sustained us for generations.]
33. In all things occurring within the Square, male leadership is generally notified.
34. This, of course, is at the Green Corn Busk at White Earth. The Fire is already present at the other three Busks: the "Berry & Arbor Dance" in Spring, "Little Green Corn" (now called the Cold Busk) in late Summer and "The Harvest Ceremony" which occurs in Fall at the time of the first frost. Kunfuskee follows the “Tallahassee” rules, also known as Muddy Waters rules.
35. People of Apalachicola are not Sun worshipers but Sun respecters. The Sun is their supreme natural symbol for the Supreme Being, One Above. Christians do not worship Cross and Bible but regard them as necessary and supreme symbols of their faith. It is the same with the people of this Tribal Town.
36. If held late in a day, Dancers may line up at the West Arbor in order to face Sunward at the start. In times past, though the Dance began in the eastern orientation, women would mark time before the West Arbor facing outward to the Sun for a moment and then resume. This hasn't been done since the early 1970s. The western stop is seldom done if no singers sing for the Ribbon Dance. Usually, two singers with hand-held rattles are used.
37. The rest period as a dividing point, it has been suggested, reflects an ever-present duality permeating all Creek beliefs. Several women have stated that they prefer going the eight rounds before a full break. The extra effort, hardship and the necessary endurance makes them feel stronger and more accomplished in their appointed tasks as Life-Givers. Such is sacrifice.
38. A small hand drum or rattles occasionally accompany ribbon Dance. In years gone by, when the town was considerably larger, a group of specifically designated men sang for this Dance. For fulfilling this privilege, they received gifts of Tobacco from the community at large. Few singers have been used since 1956. In some recent years one man has sung an occasional song. There have been a few years in which the entire Dance proceeded without any accompaniment. During World War II, women refused to wear Shakers or allow the use of rattles. Several explanations seem plausible for this action, but none have been put forth publicly. Women with sons in Korea, Viet Nam or other active military campaigns, did wear shakers either.
39. Hvce (HUH-jee, HUH-tsee): Tail, rear end, derriere and other unmentionables; end of a line.
40. Murder cannot be forgiven by the Fire's pledge. The women, givers of life, must avenge it. Only the mother, sister or daughter (or other close female kin in their absence) of a victim can make an exception and accept a pledge and offer forgiveness for murder.
41. In symbolic representations of all things spiritual, lines of kinship are inherently found in things Muskogee.
42. Even though a man kindles the physical New Fire, he must be clean and in a state of grace to approach the Fire after it has ignited and is growing. The Fire becomes its own Being. Woman purifies man for the task. Ohfvnkv (Oh-Fuhn-guh): One Above, God.
43. People of Apalachicola, and all Muskogees, call themselves "People of One Fire." They are Children of the Sun. Yuchi (Euchee) also speak of themselves of Children of the Sun. The Sun originally burned away the deep fog of ignorance in the First Times. Then, all could see and come to know Ohfvnkv, the One Above, the Father Spirit, Master of Breath, Creator and Source. By way of the Sun and its offspring, the Sacred Fire, Ohfvnkv, through whose creation all that is, was or will be, is both a symbolic and actual presence. Apalachicola's people are not Sun worshippers, idolaters or heathen. They merely know that God is in and of all things. What they do is for their own uplift and spiritual improvement. They do these in the manner given them in the ancient times by the sacred teachers [Dr. Michael Hittman, 1978].
44. Mvto (mvh-DOH): "That's the thing! That's the proper way. That's as it should be. That's it - that's really it." In other words, it is more than Thanks or Thank you. It is an acknowledgment and recognition that everything is as it should be and in proper order, too. It is a simple but powerful word in Creek. The last syllable is drawn out with a raised ascending pitch. Even the sound is powerful when uttered in unison.
45. More has been left out of this article than has been included. Only an intimate conversation with knowledgeable citizens of Apalachicola will really bring a fuller understanding to this great annual happening.
The Ribbon Dance essay speaks for itself. The manner by which it came about does warrant a brief word or two. Its author is the whole community. Over the past 40 years, women of Apalachicola Tribal Town were asked about their personal experiences, thoughts and beliefs concerning this Dance. Most responded, and usually in writing. Their collective reactions were finally brought together to create a series of essays in the late 70s, in conjunction with the Muskogee Words and Ways series. One particular letter has been kept intact because it seemed an appropriate introduction. It properly sets the tone for the reader and gives some indication of the many responses tendered. The Ribbon Dance at Apalachicola Tribal Town is one of the most important public statements made about Apalachicola1 Creek Philosophy. The worldview of the people of Apalachicola, especially the Women, is clearly put into focus by this thoughtful community essay.
It's Wednesday. I'm just now finding time to answer your request. The world is still too much with me. It is always such a shock to return to the swing of modern life. You ask me to write some about the women's participation in the Busk from my own view. I hope these few things put down on paper will help. It is very hard to verbalize our quiet ways. Once at the Square, we try not to have direct contact with men, especially through the main or Fast Day of the Busk. On the first evening, it is our collective task to designate the log bearers for the Sacred Fire. We discuss the choices among ourselves with each woman suggesting male candidates for her own reasons.2 Much effort and deliberation accompanies this process. We're usually the first to get up; we prepare for the washing at the East Arbor.3
Then we spend the early morning time quietly in individual thoughts. As the men begin to stir, wash according to their "early morning" rites, and start their own duties, we begin preparation of the feast. Some outsiders may look upon this as "the women in the kitchen," syndrome while men are out doing the important things. In reality, it seems to us that cook camps are extensions of the Square itself. Nvyokv, others and I have often discussed this. Is this in part because of the Square's Sacred Fire in the stoves and we really are in the presence of One Above? The things we are doing [in the cook camps] are really prayers [disguised as work] and preparation of the physical for the spiritual. Out of necessity, we talk some during morning about special prayers and requests for the Ribbon Dance but always in quiet subdued tones. After all, you constantly remind us about the voice of silence!
We usually ignore the first calls for the Ribbon Dance, a long-standing tradition. But, with each additional call, I can feel quieting in preparation for the Dance itself. At the third call, we begin to dress. I keep my Ribbons from ceremony to ceremony, spending some alone time before each Busk to review my special prayers and duties as a woman of this community. Soon, we are assembled in our Arbor with Shakers ready for the Dance. “Hokvs-cë!” “I’m ready now.” We select a Willow branch to carry in our hand; it will be offered to One Above through the Fire at the end of the Dance. Willow, sister to cedar, embodies our special requests, the "living" prayers of the group as opposed to our individual ribbon-laden prayers.
We don't talk publicly about the Dance or requests. There does seem to be a very keen communication between us all at this time that supersedes spoken words. I do not know what other women take into this Dance. I personally don't consciously try to think or not to think; usually, my thoughts become a flowing rhythm, like dancing, itself. This is very hard.4 In some Dances, a particular person or thought seems to shout [at my mind] with each step. Sometimes, an individual may carry a sprig of Sweet Gum to signify a special troubledness. The strongest feeling or emotion is usually one of strengthening and closeness (as in merged spirits) between the women and the Town.
As the Dance ends, I am totally elated, drained and yet strengthened—all at once! I'm sure there are other "woman" things that are done during the Busk weekend; they elude me now. We talk very little among ourselves about what we are doing, but we seem to operate on the same wave length during the Busks; this especially applies to those who attend the entire ceremony regularly. After reading this, I'm sure it can't be what you need. If you could write some specific questions, I would try to answer. What you are doing is important; I want to help if I can. We must not loose our ways.
A Brief Description of an Ascension Ceremony
Conducted during the Harvest Busk Held at Apalachicola Tribal Town at
Blountstown, Florida, November 1995
A Brief Overview:
The last such installation rites of a hereditary Mekko of the un-removed Apalachicola Tribal Town people occurred summer, 1923 (1. Many changes have taken place in Apalachicola life since then including a radical shift in the kinship system, a near loss of the language outside of its ceremonial context, a breakdown in the matrilineal traditions of leadership and majority conversion to Christianity as a survival mechanism by many. The teens and early twenties saw the last wild cattle roundup, the last communal tending of large fields and the last annual communal Harvest Hunt, and the loss of the “Big House” ceremonial ground in Blountstown, where Mekko Vntolv Tuske Haco’s house now stands. Yellow fever and influenza outbreaks severely reduced the population and altered the ceremonial structure. Ku Klux Klan opposition, Jim Crow laws, and economic changes scattered many families as they sought a better life than previous generations. Customs, habits and traditions were rushed into oblivion by the converted families while the minority clung stubbornly to the old philosophies and practices which centered on the Sacred Fire and Square Ground. Although diminished, it is important to note that no break occurred in ceremonial life.
The Sacred Fire has never been extinguished but is faithfully renewed each year according to customary rites. This “Unbroken Green Corn” of Florida among the Muscogee and Miccosukee peoples is the only remaining root in the east of the ancient mound builder heritage. The annual communal "Cry Time" at first frost continues, as does occasional secondary re-interment. Per capita land payments of the Creek Dockets brought forth thousands of people claiming Indian heritage. For most, these specious claims were rightfully voided. The wake caused by the scramble for Creek docket money, gained the South a whole new social stratum, that of the "instant Indian" and "trinket traders." To further insulate and isolate itself from this phenomenon, Apalachicola Tribal Towns, rendered Tvlwv Rakko Apalachicola in the Creek language, changed the English name of its ceremonial town site to Pine Arbor Tribal Town from 1981 to 1999. To do so required calling a Constitutional Convention that included input from the Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole Nations of Oklahoma with special assistance given by Principle Chief Claude Cox, Robert W. Trepp and historian Angie Debo. The late Joe Floyd represented the removed Apalachicola of Oklahoma and the late Sam Wall and Thom Hyfield represented Town citizens from Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and Alabama. The late Archie Sam represented affiliated Natchez citizens. Final ratification of the name selected by former Matriarch Nvhokv (Mrs. R. O. McKenzie) took place at Wakulla Springs and was hosted by Edward Ball, Jake Belin and Joe Wilkie. Through all this, the Town was and remains a viable unbroken link with America's ancient Southeastern peoples and their ways.
The Ceremonial Grounds were largely prepared because a full Harvest Busk was underway. Four long blasts from a conch shell had already opened the Grounds on a previous day. Cry Time, a final weeping for former rulers, the recent dead which included the future Mekko's mother and the viewing of old bones had concluded. Mourners had struck the ball post hard with clubs, axes--whatever was at hand. They spoke the deceased names for a last time publicly. The Heles-Hayv at that time and the mourners now consigned their souls to the stars, campfires of the departed. All eyes moved slowly up the ball post, caught sight of pale smoke from the central ceremonial Fire and knew it would lead the souls to the Milky-Way, pathway of the departed; within four days all could look up to search out their family's campfire in the sky, carefully noting its increased brightness.
The way upward had been made clear for their following and the way cleared for the generation anew to take its seats over the generation old. The preparation day had also hosted a small family giveaway to honor the Mekko's mother. All her available wealth was distributed to all women who danced at the Grounds. A feast larger than any in recent memory rounded out the day in more ways than one. A grandson of the former priest would conduct these rites. An elected tribal chairman would stand firmly with the future Mekko and assist the priest of the occasion--visibly but firmly demonstrating and supporting the duality of separate civil and ceremonial leadership. Brother to the Mekko would carry the mats in procession, place them and bind the girth mat on the Mekko when required. The offering and taking of the mats are emblematic of Apalachicola's highest authority. There are more elaborate symbols but none of such import as simple mats.
Before the actual rites of accession and ascension on Sunday morning, the Square Grounds were swept cleaned again and symbolic white sand scattered over the ceremonial area inside the small shell ring which marks the sacred clearing and Fire Mound within its circle. The Fire Mound was attended to by leveling and reshaping; special wood was procured for the occasion. The four willow-covered Arbors were finely decorated with woven sashes and other hand work. They may also be decorated with garlands of greenery and ribbons. Because of time constraints for the 1995 Harvest Busk, Arbors were only moderately adorned with ceremonial objects.
Woven mats are historically important to these Grounds and mats are essential for these rites(2. Paul Hornsby(3 gathered materials and prepared two specially woven mats, symbol of authority. The longest mat had dimensions which covered the top surface of an ancient bench(4 used for this and similar invocations of authority and Power. The second mat was the same length but one half its width. A third cane mat was about one quarter the size of the first--just enough surface to constitute a seat for one person, the future Mekko. It was especially woven by ground’s member and its borders were completed by Mary Francis Johns (5, a Seminole member of the Grounds from the Brighton reservation at Okeechobee, Florida.
These mats were brought forth at the appropriate time Sunday morning and placed on the backbench of the North Arbor under the auspices of a senior male. This honor is determined by the Heles-Hayv, Maker of Medicine in concert with the matriarch. For this ceremony, Mark Cummings was chosen. He has attended Busks for over 21 years in a leadership role and makes tremendous effort and sacrifice by traveling to the Busks from his home in California; he is also the future Mekko's clan sibling and has demonstrated undaunted faithfulness to Medicine, sacrifice, and service to the Apalachicola Town.
When the rites of accession and ascension were ready to proceed, all clothed themselves in their finest ceremonial raiment. The exception was the ascending Mekko. In former times, this participant remained unclothed during the initial portion of the rites. In this modern instance and because of the public character of the Grounds, the future Mekko wore only common sleeping attire and a ragged flannel shirt--all purposefully disheveled (6.
When everyone was seated, the Heles-Hayv (as was both a right and duty) selected two Emarv(7 (ee-MAHT'hlah): Dan Penton and John Thomas. The selection of the Emarv were based on the ceremonial (religious or spiritual) and political (civil or governing) components of the Town and earlier historical precedence. In their role, the Emarv direct and escort ritual participants to and from Arbors, make announcements to the Town at large, and accompany all prescribed actions of the Heles-Hayv and other procurators. The chosen Emarv may or may not be the same who serve as Emarv for the Ribbon Dance and other celebratory activities at the Grounds. Dan is the grandson of Sankey Godwin, the ceremonial leader and Heles-Hayv who conducted the 1923 rites under direction of his own father, James-Robert, also a Maker of Medicine. John Thomas, current tribal chairman of the Florida Tribe of Eastern Creek Indians, is the son, grandson, great grandson, great-great grandson and cousin of all former tribal political leaders from the FTECI.
After the Emarv were chosen, Dan Penton addressed the Town reminding all that continued ceremonial silence was to be observed by those present. From that point, all conversation and unnecessary sound ceased; normally, a conch shell trumpet could have sounded four long blasts to mark and initiate the occasion. The shell master had other duties more pressing at that moment. Instructions given to the Emarv from Heles-Hayv were always lightly whispered--not audible to anyone else. Such silence is necessary if the ritual is to be of a primary sacred order--all actions directed solely to One-Above. A secondary sacred order is directed towards Sacred Power performed to benefit humans. "Silence is the language of One-Above, Creator but sound is the language of creation" is often quoted at the Apalachicola grounds.
John Thomas, the Emarv from the political component, gave no speeches or addresses because those active in political roles are not allowed a public voice in ceremonial activity at the Square Grounds; But, they may serve in any secondary support role.
The Heles-Hayv stood and quietly walked around to the South side of the West Arbor, the place where the Medicine Bundles are kept and displayed at the Grounds. Heles-Hayv knelt down in a position appropriate to the forthcoming transformation. The Bundles were opened and he procured a small piece of lightning struck wood and four small snuff cans each containing a different powdered mineral paint (8. Several small woven baskets, each approximately one-inch square and each containing one of the fourteen sacred herbs were brought forth. Copal incense (9 donated by David Freidel for this occasion was also brought forth. With the Bundles still open (10, he set the 4 small cans to his right and carefully opened each one. The Maker of Medicine created a small drop of paint with a moistening a finger with a little fat and touching that finger to the powder in the first can; he made a small circular imprint on the piece of lightning struck wood. This step was repeated for each of the other three containers. The resulting efforts imprinted four small colored circular dots on the small wooden splint--yellow, red, white and black in that order (11. After the lightning struck wood was marked with the appropriate colors, the small baskets were arranged in the open Bundle in a mirror image of a constellation whose Creek name is not yet known to the author. Finally, Heles-Hayv removed two other items from the Bundle. One was an ancient piece of buffalo hair dating back to the days of the eastern woods bison. The other has no known name in English but will be called a Medicine String for the present. It consists of a long thin leather thong to which is tied a series of small pieces of cloth and doeskin forming little pouches about the size of a small marble each. Their contents are not known beyond the men who handle and care for the Bundle. However, Mark Cummings noted that they have been withdrawn from the Bundle only three or four times in the last 25 or so years.
The Heles-Hayv stood up and walked eastward across the Square to the Fire which is always seated on a small earthen mound called the Turtle's Mound or the Back of the Turtle. Again, Heles-Hayv was escorted by the two Emarv. He then doctored the lightning struck wood with breath and placed it into the Fire. No words were spoken (12. After presenting the splint of wood to the Fire, the Fire was given tobacco hand procured by Robert Wade and Mark Purcell. Again, no prayer or spoken words were offered since Power evoking actions are often done in silence.
The sight of lightning struck word produced looks of awe from older Grounds members who knew that the use of such portended the fullest invocation of Power. Lastly, David Friedel's copal was offered to the Fire in silence to ensure the sacrifice would travel upwards to One-Above, the Creator. The copal produced an aromatic whitish-blue smoke and an abundance of sparks in the same manner as dried sweet gum resin. Such sparks are said to be reminiscent of shooting stars, while smoke is said to represent several things: another symbol of the pathway of Power, the offspring of the milky way and the vines (also speech scrolls) around the [invisible] axis-mundi. The Medicine String was carried in the Heles-Hayv's hand throughout the offering sequence. After the offerings, the Heles-Hayv was escorted back to the Bundle into which the Medicine String was returned; then, he was escorted to his seat by the two Emarv, Dan and John.
The Emarv then went forth to the South Arbor and motioned for the Town's musician, Henev-Maro (Richard W. Smith), to step forth. The flute player was then escorted around the Fire, Afterwards; all three exited the Grounds near the Bundle in the West Arbor and continued to walk until they were between the West Arbor and the ball post to the West of the Grounds. They stopped and turned to face the Fire. The Town's musician, Henev-Maro, began playing softly as he slowly walked towards the West Arbor flanked by the two Emarv (13. All three entered though the West Arbor and continued to walk until they reached the edge of the South Arbor. At that point, all briefly stopped and faced the Arbor, with Richard still playing softly. After a few moments of music, all began to slowly walk towards the East Arbor; Richard continued playing the flute all the while. Upon reaching the East Arbor, all stopped again and faced the Arbor as before--the flute still continuing. After a brief pause, all began walking towards the North Arbor where the scenario was repeated. From the North Arbor, the three walked towards and eventually around the Bird Mound in the northwest corner of the Square; playing continued softly.
After Richard and the two Emarv circumnavigated the invisible Bird Mound, they proceed to the West Arbor and repeated the same scene as before. After pausing at the West Arbor's edge, the flute player and the Emarv processed toward the Fire. At the half-way point, they stopped. Richard continued to play for an extended time and then let the sound of the flute taper off to silence before the Fire. When Richard finished playing, he was escorted back to his South Arbor seat by the Emarv (14. While at the South Arbor, the Emarv motioned forth one of the men named Vbvske or Eric Jakubowski, whom they escorted towards the North Arbor after circling the Fire once. When the party reached the North Arbor, the (ceremonial) Emarv, Dan, pointed towards a man sitting the Arbor called Hopoyv or Doug Alderson, who stepped forth. Next, all walked to the West Arbor. Each man chosen from the South and North Arbors was to be a Vfvstv, "those who attend to," (uh-FAHSH-duh, uh-fahsh-DULL-gee, plural) 15.
When the Emarv and Vfvstvlke came to the West Arbor, the Heles-Hayv stood again, stepped to the Bundle, and picked up two horse conch shells(16 and placed a shell at each end of the ancient ceremonial bench. Next he placed a female Turtle to the side of one conch shell and placed a male Turtle to the side of the other conch shell (17.
Emarv Dan Penton whispered instructions to the Vfvstvlke. Afterwards, the Vfvstvlke carefully lifted the bench and its contents off the ground, reminiscent of a litter. Escorted by the Emarv, the Vfvstvlke carried the bench airborne to East side of the Square half way between the East Arbor and the Fire; they placed the bench broadside to the Fire with ends facing North and South. After lowering and placing the bench, the Vfvstvlke stepped back one-step as the Emarv went to the North Arbor. Upon arriving, the Emarv pointed to Mark Cummings (keeper of the mats), who then picked up the mats and proceeded to the West Arbor with them.
After conferring with the Emarv, Mark picked up the long woven mat and arranged it so that the mat rested on his open hands, palms-up (18. Mark was then escorted by the Emarv to the East Arbor, where he approached the bench from its rear (facing the Fire mound). Each Vfvstv approached the bench from the North and South, lifted up the conch shell and Turtle at their respective ends and stepped back. Mark, holding the mat with palms-up, proceeded towards the bench, knelt, and evenly placed the mat on top of the bench. Afterwards, Mark stepped back from the bench and the Vfvstvlke stepped forward to replace each conch and Turtle shell on top of the matted bench in the prescribed manner.
After the mat, shells and Turtles were placed on the bench, the Emarv proceeded to East Arbor and quietly brought forth the ascending Matriarch--Emv, Doris Adams. Emv was escorted to the North end of the bench where she stood facing the Fire. An Vfvstv stepped forward and removed the shell and Turtle. Then he stepped back. Emv was seated. The Emarv proceeded around the Fire to the West Arbor and quietly brought the ascending Mekko forward from where he stood under the West Arbor. He was escorted around the Fire to the bench. The other Vfvstv stepped forward, removed the other Turtle and shell and stepped back. The Heles-Hayv was seated on the South end of the bench, facing the Fire.
Both Emv and Heles-Hayv, seated on the bench, raised the hands, palms-up, from their laps. Each Vfvstv stepped forward and placed a shell and a Turtle in each hand of Emv and Mekko. The shell was placed in the outside hand while the Turtle was placed in the inside hand. The Vfvstvlke stepped back; the Heles-Hayv, gazing intently towards the Fire, began a quiet invocation from the ceremonial language which Emv quietly repeated.
After the ceremonial recitation was spoken, each Vfvstv stepped forward, removed the shell and Turtle from each ascending officer's hand and stepped back. Heles-Hayv and Emv stood up; the Emarv separately escorted each back to their respective Arbors. While the participants were being escorted back, each Vfvstv stepped forward and replaced the Turtle and shell back on bench in their original positions--conch shells on the outside and Turtles on the inside. When the Emarv returned from escorting the main ritual participants, the Vfvstvlke picked the bench and moved it to the West side of the Fire and placed the bench halfway between the Arbor and Fire mound--with the ends of the bench pointing North and South. The Emarv again separately escorted Heles-Hayv and Emv to the bench, where they would again be seated facing the Fire. Shells and Turtles were removed from the bench and handed to participants in the same manner just described; each participant quietly recited in the ceremonial language as before. This whole process was repeated two additional times in front of the North and South Arbors with bench ends oriented East and West.
After the fourth time, Heles-Hayv and Emv concluded their part of the ceremony; they were separately returned their respective Arbor by the Emarv. The conch shells and Turtles were returned to the top the mat covered bench that the Vfvstvlke carefully lifted up again. The Emarv escorted them and the bench around the Fire to the West Arbor side. The Vfvstvlke placed the bench halfway between Fire mound and West Arbor. At this point, one Vfvstv walked near to the Bundle, grasped the cylindrical ceramic medicine pot, returned to the bench and placed the pot in its center between the Turtles and shell.. The same Vfvstv again walked to the Bundle and obtained the short cedar blowing tube, a garfish jaw and the smallest mat that was woven from cane. He proceeded towards the bench where he placed the small mat atop the ceramic medicine pot; the cedar tube and garfish jaw were also placed on the smaller woven mat. Afterwards, the Emarv escorted the two Vfvstvlke and Mark back to their respective Arbors.
After all ritual participants were seated, the Emarv escorted the ascending Matriarch, Emv, to the front of the Fire; she stood halfway between the Fire and East Arbor. The ceremonial Emarv informed the Town, that a Matriarch had been raised up and the time had come for the community to approve or disapprove of the choice. Members who accepted and approved came forth and stood behind Emv. The whole congregation came forth with the exception of the Heles-Hayv who is allowed no voice in this selection process. Voting by sticks (19 may also be used for this procedure. All were then seated after casting their approving vote for the new Matriarch that they did by willingly placing her between themselves and the Fire, a ceremonial action meaning trust.
The ascending Mekko, who had remained seated throughout this portion of the rites, rose slowly and publicly discarded the rumpled clothing right down to the bright red undergarments several town's women had provided for this occasion. Even the most solemn actions are often laced with good natured but silent humor generated by the women--men willingly comply. With assistance from a clan sibling, the Mekko clothed himself in the finest of traditional clothing: brightly patterned and finely tailored long shirt, long coat, gorgets, bandoleer bag, and beaded finger woven garters were the most obvious. The second woven mat (described earlier) was wrapped around Mekko's waist by clan a sibling and the Emarv. A traditional beaded sash previously woven by the flute maker for ceremonial occasions secured it. A short speaking stick was stuck into the left side of the sash. Into Mekko's left hand was placed an ancient Turtle rattle crowned by a carved turkey beard and a turkey wing was placed in his right hand which he held with bent elbow to show off the plumage-- a requisite of formal announcements (20. In a voice of utmost quietness, Mekko simply announced within the West Arbor, "The Mats are Taken." All others remained seated except the Emarv, the Mekko stepped slowly out of the West Arbor, turned right exited the Square Ground and began to slowly walk around the outside perimeter until he had completely encircled the entire ceremonial site. Afterwards, he re-entered the ceremonial area of the Square Ground at the West Arbor and slowly coursed the inside perimeter in the standard counter clockwise (sunward) manner encircling each corner post of the Grounds and passing in front each Arbor until he returned to the West Arbor--this is one of the most ancient of ceremonial patterns of power in Southeastern ways. The Emarv did not escort the ascending Mekko during this walk often call the Walk of Death and Birth or the Walk of Change21.
After completing his ceremonial walk, the Emarv escorted the ascending Mekko to a point halfway between the Fire and West Arbor where he remained facing the Fire. Again, the ceremonial Emarv announced to the assembled Town that a Mekko had been raised up. Now, it was time for the community to approve or disprove the selection--always after the fact. Everyone except the Matriarch (22 could voice their approval and loyalty to the Town or reject the choice and withdraw. As before, a vote by Fire was taken in which each who approved stood behind the Mekko and expressed confidence by willingly placing Mekko between their own person and the Fire. The disapproving would step forward and block Mekko's access to the Fire. There were no dissenting shadows cast across the Fire and no broken sticks at either's feet. None stood to withdraw from the Town; traditional consent prevailed as before. Both Matriarch and Mekko were now locked into a role of service--a service of ritual helpfulness. From such a role only death can excuse and release someone. If one retires or becomes ill, a regent is appointed until the last breath. Matriarch and Mekko--the Grounds were complete once again.
The stilled quietness of the two-hour affair had been broken only by an appropriate on-going chorus of birds until this final point at which a great shout of "Mvto!" went up from the congregation. After quiet congratulations, everyone returned to their Arbors in preparation for the Harvest Dance that would begin shortly. All other aspects of the Busk fell immediately into their proper routine as if nothing had disrupted in any manner. The entire accession and ascension rites occurred in about two hours' time marked as a deliberate, dignified, graceful and an extremely quiet affair. Sparseness did not detract from but enhanced the simplicity and beauty publicly express by the community in congregation. To many, it was one of the most powerful and moving moments in Pine Arbor's history--it was a time when the most ancient of practices grasped hands with present to ensure the future. Many adults wept with the impact of such a simple, austere and severe ceremony in the midst of people who general have a rich ceremonial life. Dr. Bill Grantham, a Creek anthropologist from Troy State University visiting for the occasion, noted that people, corn and other common modern elements were missing from the symbology. Dr. Grantham said the affair felt almost neolithic in its simplicity but duality and a dual axis-mundi were evident in every action, especially with the preceding installation of a Matriarch on whom the Mekko was not allowed to voice opinion, rule or comment in any manner. Similarly, the Matriarch was allowed no comment on the Mekko--neither could accept nor reject; their equal separate roles in two separate worlds was made quite clear to all present.
Addenda: Dr. McCaffrey and Dr. Jakubowski also noted the litter symbology of the bench but they reminded us of something even more striking. After the future leaders left the bench for their permanent stations on the Grounds, the cylindrical medicine vessel was placed in its empty center and covered by the small seat mat on which were placed the cedar blowing tube but not the cane tube and also a gar fish jaw but not modern scratchers. A Turtle flanked each side of the pot and shells marked the outer edge of the bench. It was a visible picture of the Upper, Middle and Other Worlds with the positive axis-mundi, the Sacred Fire) seen behind the bench and the negative axis-mundi, the ball post and war post seen just off the Grounds--in its formal composition, people and corn were absent but hunting and gathering tools adorned all the Arbors. They also noted that voting by Fire really was a public assent for the system and the office but not individual approval of a particular people; it demonstrated a surrender of individual self interest in favor of the Town as a whole--trust made visible. Congratulations were given privately from person to person but not publicly. Finally, they reminded us that throughout all this, Heles-Hayv and others occasionally referred to procedural notes from the 1923 rites but after acknowledging the Fire with Power-laden gifts, Heles-Hayv did not actually participate in any role which utilized power or shamanic forces but instead was a silent, almost penitent individual until the end. Even then, there was no spoken remarks, speeches or public accolades clearly demonstrating the ability of the community to access and fully use Power without a reliance on any individual. Deceptively simple, silent and beautiful, out of this accession and ascension ceremony arises a stream of visible symbology of great complexity and antiquity.
1. There have been Matriarchs before Emv (e-MAH) and other leaders since 1923; they ruled as regents for someone still living. No ceremonial special actions were required--only the consent of the ruled. Emv, Nvhokv, Alice and other ruled as regent for Barbara Allen Conway, mother of the ascending Mekko.
2. Bartram, Swanton and other writers give several accounts of the use of mats within a ceremonial context. Iberville's Gulf Journals describes the abundant use of mats marking the death of a king. Dr. George Lankford has also offered thoughts on the importance of mats as authority icons.
3. Paul Hornsby, in addition to being well known in the recording industry with the likes of Nitty-Gritty and Marshall Tucker Bands, is also Creek, a descendant of William Red Eagle Weatherford and a master craftsman of Native American technologies.
4. At Apalachicola Grounds, an ancient gray-green and white bench is always found at the South end of the West Arbor. It is called by many names in English depending on its momentary use: Maker of Medicine's Bench, Medicine Bench and Seat of Power. Many think this bench is a surviving remnant of the Southeastern litter formerly used; it may also be an icon for the Middle World. George Dixon and Mark Bunting saved it from destruction at the old site.
5. This mat must be woven by the participant but is always finished at the edge by someone of the opposite sex and moiety because this seat embodies the cooperative duality of both female and male. The members of an hereditary ruling lineage must learn to weave as a prelude to governing. It is believed by so doing the future leaders will learn to handle the complexities of sorting out the numerous activities, affairs, complaints and needs of the community. "Tradition says a son weaves for a deceased mother and a daughter weaves for her father" and "A Mekko who cannot weave cannot hold a tribal town together," are old sayings at Apalachicola.
6. It appears that the clothing chosen again represented dualities of the ceremonial year, dualities of status lineage and common in addition to noting a rare dual role as Heles-Hayv and Mekko.
7. Marv, Emarv: Busk and war title and office. Literal meaning: "those who move among them and make them stir in their midst." The Emarv at the Apalachicola grounds are Busk officers who act as disciplinarians and masters of ceremony.
8. Snuff cans long ago replaced the fragile paint pots which have since been relegated to a museum.
9. Dried sweet gum and pine resins are usually employed as incense.
10. This is the only time during day or night that the Bundle is fully opened except just prior to the Ribbon Dance when the Atasse blades are withdrawn for the Matriarch who leads the dance.
11. The Medicine colors are usually given, evoked and stated as red, yellow, black and white. Some ceremonial actions require a reversal of items or procedures when Power is specially evoked.
12. Lightning struck wood is already sacred, having been marked by One-Above; it does not require the purifying administration "Breath" through a Heles-Hayv, Maker of Medicine. Lightning is an important medicine in several contexts.
13. Flutes are an alternate blowing tube (its opposite twin) and alternative bird form as suggested by the story of the flute's origin. Moreover, birds were the first in creation to receive a voice from Creator (see How All Things Came To Be.) Flutes also signal the arrival and presence of important dignitaries into a Town. Henev-Maro's flute marked the motion and pathway of Power between the ends of the axis-mundi, the Fire and ball post, which, themselves, are a form of opposite twins forming a whole.
14. Technically, the flute player should have started playing at and entered from the East Arbor with the Emarv. He would have proceeded to the North Arbor, the invisible Bird Mound and so forth in the prescribe manner until reaching the East once again. At this point the flute player would have played standing half between the East Arbor and the Fire; then, he would have circled the Fire and moved to a similar point on the North side and continued in this manner until he had come again to the East. After playing again here facing the Arbor he would have circled the Fire and stopped to play facing the North and so forth until he stood before the South. From here the Emarv would lead him around the Fire for the last time and seat him in his appropriate Arbor, the South.
15. The Vfvstvlke (plural of Vfvstv) oversee the coordination of materials items used at Busk among their other duties such as dance masters and activity supervisors. Literal meaning: Those who attend to or arrange them.
16. Shells mark boundaries between the sacred and the secular; they are also a symbolic voice for One-Above. This is why shells mark the outer boundary of the Square and why they sit on the outer edge of the Medicine Bench. Sounding a shell trumpet often marks and initiates ceremonial action. It would have been appropriate to sound the trumpets at the beginning of the rites. They were time constraints.
17. Looking at the bench: edge, shell, Turtle, large middle space, Turtle, shell, edge.
18. Mats are carried palms-up in a manner of supplication.
19. Stick Method: Members approving of the choice or action lay a small, unbroken stick in front of the candidate; an Vfvstv gathers and places them in the Fire. Dissenting members would throw down a broken stick at the feet of the candidate. An Vfvstv would count the broken sticks to see if a majority is represented. Such sticks are not given to the Sacred Fire but are discarded since they represent anger.
20. In 1923, an ivory-bill skin was the symbol used--not the turkey wing. Sometime during the early 1960's, a person representing himself as a game and wildlife agent for the federal government removed the bird skin from our possession. It was said that it would be returned after study and comparison. All now feel that we were conned and the person did not represent a legitimate authority. A pileated woodpecker is an equal and acceptable substitute but apparently not to be made available to us, even as a loaned item. Should either bird become available, the entire rites would be immediately repeated.
21. A symbolic marking of one's established territory according to Dan Penton and Pat McCaffrey. It is also symbolic of the birth to death cycle celebrated throughout the ceremonial life; it may correlate with shamanic or transformational changes associated with that office.
22. Neither a Mekko nor a Matriarch can publicly vote or express an opinion about the other as they jointly represent duality--two different sides of one whole. They rule as opposite equals but never in contradiction one to another.
Stories of the Apalachicola People
The Sacred Nature of Cedar
Many trees are special but Cedar is the most special of all. In the long ago First Times when people were new and learning their places and responsibilities, they and animals, too, discovered many things. Here is one story:
Just after creation, the "Smooth Shell Days" and after the time an Old Woman had become a woodpecker (which is quite an interesting Turtle story, too), One Above came into Creation to see how things were coming along. Creator was curious to know if all the newly created and recently instructed nations were getting along. The Great Creator took on physical form to better experience all that had been created. First, One Above visited with the Serpent Nations. Serpents all saw One Above as the greatest of the Horned Serpents. Serpents followed Creator in swift and rapid courses through fields and woods. It was really exciting for Serpents to follow One Above. One by one, Creator, visited all Nations of Beings. The final visit One Above made to the Deer Nation who saw Creator as the largest, swiftest of Deer. They ran after One Above, leaping and prancing with great joy. Each nation of Beings was visited by One Above. After all this, Creator found that tiredness had come to visit. "So," One Above thought, "now that We are here visiting the Beings and being like them, We are feeling tiredness, too."
One Above spotted a very nice little Tree nearby. "How pleasant the shade," thought Creator. One Above sat down in the lush grass and sage under the little pleasant Tree, leaned back into it and was soon fast asleep--quite comfortable, too.
When One Above does anything, it is done the best. One Above is the wakest of all waking things and the deepest sleeper of all sleeping things. As One Above sat in the pleasant grasses under the little green Tree, sleep wrapped itself tight around Creator who slept and slept and kept on sleeping. As Sun went through its courses of day and night, day and night, animals came, took turns, stood guard and kept a watch over Creator; all the nations of people and other Beings, passed by quietly so as not to disturb One Above the Creator.
However, there was in a far off country, another power--a Being of unpleasant heart and chaotic ways. That Being from the "Other World," hearing that One Above was fast asleep decided to come cause some general mischief and maybe harm One Above--not that any could harm Creator. Well, this "Chaotic One" thought that perhaps it could do so. The Warrior Woodpecker, flying high from tree to tree across open fields, became aware of the chaos coming to disturb Creator.
What to do, what shall I do? The Warrior Woodpecker knew his responsibility. He had been given a job in earlier times, had been charged with warning of danger. The Warrior Woodpecker flew swiftly to the little green Tree and pecked very, very hard. However, One Above continued to sleep very, very deeply. The Woodpecker pecked ever harder and harder. Soon, the Woodpecker was drumming so hard against the Tree that it 'roused all creation with the noise. All able Beings came to see what was the matter, the source of this great noise--the cause of all this racket. Once there, they saw the little Woodpecker drumming very hard on the Tree. Finally, One Above awakened and quickly learned the cause of the racket that had disturbed the deep sleep.
Now wide awake, and with the offered help of all the other Beings, One Above quickly put the chaotic one back into the place of darkness and disorder from whence it had come. That poor Woodpecker, who at first had only a little red on its skin, had pecked the Tree so hard that its head had become bloody all over. Some of its blood had dropped down on its children standing around on the ground. We see today that many small woodpeckers have little drops of red on their heads from their father's blood. The Warrior Woodpeckers' heads are dark red all over where their ancestor bloodied his entire head drumming hard against the little pleasant green Tree.
All during the time One Above slept and breathed deeply, the little Tree, a Cedar, that sheltered and shaded One Above, kept its branches arched out to protect Creator from too much Sun, too much Cold, or too much Wind. In so doing, the little Cedar had gently captured and absorbed all the breath of One Above--not wanting it to escape in case One Above should need that breath again. The grasses and sages, too, had grown fragrant in the presence of Creator.
Upon awakening, One Above said to the Cedar, "You, faithful watcher, shall keep this Breath with you always that all may know that you are special; you were trusted and you watched over Our sleep. All shall always be aware of you. Your fragrant smell will always tell others how close you are to Creator." The Sweetgrass and Sage also shared the gift of Creator's breath.
Now you know why the Warrior Woodpecker has a red head and many smaller woodpecker species have the little red dot; now you know story of the fragrant Cedar Tree and its "breath" of One Above. And, when Cedar, Sage or Sweetgrass is burned as incense, that fragrant sacred Breath returns the Thanksgiving prayers of all Beings to One Above. It was at a later time that sacred tobacco first appeared among the nations and its smoke join this cleansing prayful trilogy. This is how these things came to be. This is what the Elders told us.
HOW ALL THINGS CAME TO BE
An Apalachicola Story, Common Version
Beings Of Air and Water
[The full ceremonial text will be found elsewhere with notes]
IN THE FIRST TIME, which became the beginning, Earth and all that exists, "was." Creator thought it, so that caused it to be. However, all that had come into "Beingness" had no place. All were in a no-where which isn't very pleasant. Aelah! It's worst than being lost.
All were perfect--Creator made it so. However, amongst all was much confusion caused by being no-where. None were very good at being still. There was no order. It isn't very Muskogee to be without order. At this beginning time there was no Square Ground and so none could see their proper place and relationship to each other. None had been given First Instructions, Original Teachings. Therefore, none knew their duties and responsibilities.
This was ONE ABOVE's first time at creating. There was no experience in these matters. At first, Creator was amused by all the confusion until Turtle cried out desperately. (Some say Turtle was the first Being to find her voice). Poor Turtle--all alone in a nothingness. Creator heard her. Suddenly, water was everywhere! And, Water made a place for all things to be. It was good all now had a place. Aelah, it was bad that it was Water. Almost everything was drowning! It takes a heap of experience to be a good Creator. One thing for sure, ONE ABOVE was getting experience!
"All in the Water were desperate. Turtle saw them and taught some to swim. The story doesn't say why Turtle knew how to swim; assume it came naturally. Some couldn't swim; Turtle rested these on her back, on her smooth shell. "All is well," you think. Not so. Tiredness came quickly and there was much anguish. Fear came to be; it was a most important feeling. Turtle did not fear Water; she sensed it was her home. However, the cries of others worried Turtle and Compassion was born. Compassion cannot dwell alone or in nothingness. It dwells only in the breasts of Beings with form and substance. With compassion her companion, Turtle remembered her own cries--Memory came to be. Memory is the tool of learning.
(All things made by Creator can think or reason, each in its own way and according to its own ability. But notice, by the Creek perception not everything has the same kind of reason or the same kind of thoughts. Each reasons according to its own.)
Turtle, hearing the desperate cries of others, knew something had to be done quickly. She dived beneath the Waters, swam about and found some mud. Turtle piled up the mud, and dived again and again. Soon, there was much land being formed all around.
Birds were the closest to the new land and scrambled up, soaked to the bone. They stretched out their wings to dry. Birds didn't know they could fly until they flapped their wings to shake off water and rose upwards to know flight. The fat Duck did not rise too high. She liked Water and returned to float upon it. She did not sink. Her big feet pushed her about. Duck understood Water and her place. She had no fear of Water and happiness was born.
Happiness comes from understanding. It is born a twin to sharing and not lonely by nature. So, Duck went to help Turtle. With her big feet, Duck pushed the mud together and packed it down smooth where it met Water. All other Beings could now climb ashore. And, they did so.
Birds, now airborne, desired to help. With their wings, they dried the land. Some beat their wings very hard and rose to great heights to see ONE ABOVE. Pleased with their work, Creator gave them songs, calls and wild cries so all would know of Creator's pleasure. Of course, the lazy Blue Jay did not help too much--if at all; Blue Jay did not receive a song.
(Say a quiet prayer or "Thank You" when you hear a Bird burst into morning's first song. To say "A Bird is Singing" in Creek is an act of praise, a recognition of ONE ABOVE.)
Creator breathed on the breast feathers of some Birds, those who flew highest. Those feathers at once became soft and delicate. These gentle feathers are called "prayer feathers" or "little prayers." Birds felt at peace and at one with the ONE ABOVE. They came to know fellowship and were thankful. Feathers helped Birds to reach Creator on high. Because of that, feathers became our companions to peace, prayer and thankfulness .
Prayer is the child of thankfulness. Eagles and Hawks flew closest to Creator. They carried prayers of thankfulness from Beings who had not yet learned to speak. While Birds were in the sky, they circled and soared. Calm and beautiful, they flowed with all things. Others learned peacefulness from their soaring example. The bigger Birds, Turkeys, did not fly too high either but they busied themselves sorting out rocks, pebbles, mineral nuggets and other things. The many Earth colors can still be seen on their feathers today--especially the shiny color of copper.
Water Turkey worked hardest at drying land with her great wings. So hard did she work, and so tired did she become, that ONE ABOVE preserved the ripples of the first Waters on her tail feathers, ripples of sky colors to remind us of Water Turkey's part in the first times. Creator gave Water Turkeys a special task. At times, they spread their tails across the sky to stop rains so there will not be too much water. When they first spread their colorful tails, rainbows came to be. Thunderbirds honor the first Water Turkey by taking her shape to commemorate Creation and the Power of ONE ABOVE.
Unselfish service is Water Turkey's legacy. Old ones say rippled feathers help Water Turkeys fly with ease. Creator rewards in quiet but lasting ways. Water Turkeys still dry their wings after diving to be ready to help if a need arises. ONE ABOVE often calls them to cut off the rain. Water Turkey, the Vigilant Bird, symbolizes watchfulness. Water Turkey's feathers fan Cedar and Tobacco incense upwards in prayers. Her feathers are sacred and must not be used without respect and the Elders' guidance.
Where land was piled high mountains came to be. Where land spread out, plains, forest, and gentle hills came to rest. Valleys followed where giants of old walked about. Turtle and Duck worked hard. Water Turkey, and all Birds, secured the meaning of sharing. The Duck embodied safety and security.
As all great and small winged Beings dried the land, rivers, ponds, lakes, and streams flowed from Water that dropped from their wings. Everything, of Land and Air, every such Being, came ashore and life filled the whole undivided land we call Aniweda, the "Back of the Turtle."
The In-Betweeners, The land Dwellers
Water Beings knew their place and abilities. Sky-dwellers discovered theirs, too! It was those In-Between Beings of land who had not yet found their own ways. They caused a great commotion with much moving about. Each one tried to be where the others were and do what the others did. Uncertainty came from lack of instruction. Things were a mess and getting worse. There was much to learn about creating!
(It is said today on Ceremonial Grounds that confusion occurs when many things try to occupy the same place at the same time, even if those things are only thoughts.)
At this time of confusion, one Tree sought only to stand in one place, enjoy itself and reflect on all that had come to be. That Tree was truly happy and understood itself, content with its differences from others. The roots of Trees grew from Peace.
That Tree discovered joy comes from within. Standing there full of peace and contentment, it appeared calm and happy. All Beings wanted Tree's happiness. They crowded around trying to share Tree's feeling. Aelah! It was crowded on, beaten down and broken apart in every way all because others didn't know their own proper places. That Tree felt helplessness and great pain. Sadness had been discovered.
Nothing was still, nothing cooperated. All Beings went about making an extraordinary confusion. Greed, the child of not knowing oneself, came to be. Winds gathered up in one place. Their noisy pranks and quarrels made everything in their reach miserable. The Sun couldn't decide what to do. It just stopped still, confused and fearful, and pondered its grievances. All living things near it shriveled in the searing heat.
Where the Sun was not, there was too much darkness and cold. Clouds all crowded up into that place. Fog also tried to crowd in. Beings stumbled about. Some got hurt. Not only Birds but all other Beings of speaking, singing, or crying out, had found their full voices. And--They were all now using them, too!
Noise! Shouting everywhere! Quietness was only a thought of the past, a dim memory, not even clear enough to be a dream. Where was order?
Turtle spoke to Creator : "Master of All Being, we cannot see and know as You. You are The Whole, but we are only its parts. We are of You, but each of us is only one small part. We know only enough to be troubled from ignorance."
"You have spoken well, Turtle," said ONE ABOVE. Some of Creator's wisdom had surely come to rest in Turtle, she who had been the first created. "In you," said Creator, "shall be thoughtful wisdom, slow and full of sureness; other kinds of wisdom shall be given other Beings according to their kind." This was done as promised. Of course, having wisdom doesn't guarantee common sense as we shall soon come to know!
"Turtle, you first among all things, call all the Nations together." Turtle called the Sky Nations, the Birds and other winged Beings. She called the four-footed Animal Nations, the Crawling Nations and the Water Nations, too. She summoned the Star Nations, the Forest Nations, the Grass Nations, and everything that had form, substance, thought or action" that all might learn their purpose and place. She called all Beings together as instructed. They came.
Not only did Creator tell her how to call all the Nations together but where to put them. Turtle set the Sun on one side of Creator and the Moon on the other. Everything had an appointed place!
ONE ABOVE said, "Let Winds rise at these shoulders and Water Nations gather under these feet. Put the Birds and all winged Beings at These hands and the Star Nations above. All other Nations sit with the Grasses all around--in front, behind and on all sides." Everything now had an appointed place. It was done as spoken. Now, all things came to know the true center.
First Instructions, Original Teachings
ONE ABOVE, is really without personal form or shape, being always all things. Thus, each saw Creator in a way each could understand. Each saw Creator as one of its own. Creator spoke with the voices of Winds; light shone from Creator's Eyes, Happiness and joy sprang from the Heart of the One Above. Every part of ONE ABOVE, The Whole, gave forth example for all to see and know.
ONE ABOVE forgot to remove anger from the Winds, but they were given gentleness for their major portion. Ah, there was much to be remembered during these proceedings for creating was still a new thing.
The Sun was set on its path with light for companionship. The Moon was given its trail. Star Nations were sent to be its brothers and sisters. They would be the Camp Fires of the Departed. The White Road was placed across the night sky-vault where it is still seen today. Sometimes, Feathered Serpents move across the sky-vault, too. They travel far and wide and pass this way so seldom.
All were taught their purpose and place. Each was given private things to know as well. Into each Being of form, substance, purpose and place, even each Rock, Leaf and Breath, a lesson was formed. Within every Voice and Sound a meaning was secured. With every Being in its appointed place around Creator, a great Ceremonial Square Ground--a great plaza--was formed. Each Being saw its own proper place and relationship to one another. Each understood order.
To all, a desire for balance was imparted. Of course, some lessons were not remembered too well or not yet discovered in full. A few were even ignored. Earth was to be Mother to all, giving equally to each, withholding from none. With First Instructions came contentment because each understood its own way, its own proper place.
(They say Turtle was either too tired from all her helpful efforts or too filled with her own self-importance to listen carefully to Creator during this time, during this "first Calling"--trouble would surely follow!)
Creator spoke on : "You will have language only as long as your voices don't become sister to trouble, mother to anger, or companion to unhappiness. You will each teach your own secrets and wisdom as you each seek to learn the lessons of the others."
"Guard your private wisdoms well. Do not toss them about carelessly or give them away foolishly. If so, you may lose them. If a Gift is not valued, it is no Gift." Healing plants learned to sing of their particular qualities. Few people, except healers, ever learn to hear their beautiful secret songs.
Generations: A Living Shadow of One's Own Kind
"You are the first Beings. In your own ways a part of you will return to yourselves : (ONE ABOVE further explained this puzzlement) Offspring will come. Teach them their proper ways. This will be the way of all living things." The Young will learn their ways from you but you will learn responsibilities from them. Is it not the child who teaches one how to be a parent, say the Elders today.
"There shall be Seasons to shelter these ways : Infancy, Youth, Maturity and Old Age marked by time, change, growth and learning. Seasons shall be grandparents to all things created; all will know they are related." All things heard Creator and now knew this to be Father Spirit and knew also the Earth as Mother. Order came to be from First Instructions as understanding became clearer.
Parents of the Year, Summer and Winter, and their Children, Fall and Spring, were named. The Sun is to be ever-watchful and shelter the Heart, Hands and Eyes of Creator. Its children, the Serpents who walk breast on breast with Mother Earth are to be the Ears of ONE ABOVE. Sound will be your voice, but Silence shall be the Voice of Creator.
The First Ceremonial Fire
All came to know Father Spirit as The Whole. And, all came to know that a part of Creator dwells within each Being. Onward the Master of Breath spoke : "Our Breath and Light will dwell in your midst." So saying, Creator placed four limbs from the Tree Nations in the midst of all the Beings there assembled on that First Square.
As the Words were spoken, the logs began to burn with Fire. The Sun also began to burn and all knew that the ONE ABOVE was there, too. Each then felt warmth in its own bosom and knew part of Creator was within, also. Each understood this according to the size of their own hearts. Serpents, who were given a special task by Creator, were also given special abilities. They did not need all their warmth; so, they shared their warmth with the Sun. They call it back only as they need it to rest and refresh. No longer could any see Creator in its own form but only in the New Fire which continued to speak well into the First Night. In the giving of the First Fire and other things, the two natures of all things came to be known. Rights and responsibilities were also set forth.
"Bears will live in the forest and have charge of feeding the Fire but others will help, too. Birds will fan this Fire with their wings, and Winds will sing around it. The Sun will burn above with all the Sky-dwellers : the Moon, Stars, and all of the Air." Of course, not everything continued as it had been ordained. This, you must surely know from experience.
"Your sister Tree who first suffered pain, will forever remain green. As Sun makes its journey through Sky and the four Seasons of Earth, all other growing things will become as this Tree when she was beaten down. During such times, all will remember the confusion and pain that sprang from greed and disorder--a Season of Cold, Frost and Bitter Memory. Winter will be its home. This Tree will stand over you. Her greenness will preserve these First Times. Berry and Blossom will then come forth to recall and honor all now assembled here together at this First Calling,when each Being was in its proper place.
When the Mulberry blossoms, all shall sit together again in a Square to remember these lessons. The presence of this Sacred Fire in your midst will renew life if you attend it always and remember." The first Square Ground was thus ordained by Creator, the ONE ABOVE and not by humankind.
"One day another Nation will awaken among you. When they raise up, each must seek to teach them, guard them and help them. Set them on the good road and be friendly to them." Thus was foretold of the coming of First Woman and her Children, the Humankind Nation.
Many things were spoken about at that time--to each Being its own lessons. No Being had yet gone to learn the teachings of another. During First Instruction, Original Teaching, most listened intently and learned their public and private ways.
(Some didn't! Many of those First Mothers neglected to teach their future sons to listen and hear the Silence; thus, some lessons were learned late after much difficulty or not learned at all!)
The lazy Blue Jay had not helped too much; nor did she listen carefully to her own Original Teachings. In fact, Blue Jay didn't even learn what color she was to be; eventually, she would steal that and other things, too! Turtle did not fully learn her First Instructions or her own ways too well either. She was too busy to listen. Turtle kept talking to herself about her own great deeds, how much help she had been to Creator and how others owed her a debt. Turtle discovered arrogance and conceit. Alas, she hid these under her smooth shell so none would know but that is another story. ONE ABOVE, upon noticing Turtle's discovery, gave Birds the privilege of calling to all Nations but quieted Turtle's arrogant voice. This is why all can understand the wild cries and songs of Birds.
For these were the "Smooth Shell Days." All things were new and Turtle's back had not yet been broken. In these days, all Beings spoke, held dances in the Sky around the Great Sun Fire and kept the ceremonials given from ONE ABOVE. This was the time when Night and Day were divided up on Raccoon's tail. That, too, is another story for another time. Yes, these were the "Smooth Shell Days" when Aniwida was whole. This is how all things came to be! At least, this is how the Elders told it to us around the Fire.
Why Some Turtles Have Smooth Shells
You know about Turtle and how her shell came to be broken and you know about the beginning, "the first times" called "The Smooth Shell Days." Some have noticed that not all Turtles have broken shells. How or why could that be? Well, the answer is a very simple story: In the beginning of time, right after Creator had called all things together and given each and every Being its appointed place, its duties and responsibilities, Turtle had not yet become arrogant. She even found time to have some children--some very nice children, they were!.
As time went on Turtle began to become arrogant and very lazy. Naturally, Turtle had been so busy in the beginning of time when One Above was giving out all the Original instructions, the first teachings, that Turtle really didn't get all of her own first instructions. Of course, some of the other Beings such as birds and animals, didn't either--but that's another story.
Anyway, Turtle got so busy with her own self-importance that she became really arrogant and the cause of much trouble. She began neglecting her own children! Some of the other creatures, Beings of water, decided to take Turtle's children and raised them with their own--they really had pity for Turtle's neglected children. Those little fortunate Turtles got to stay in the water with their new familes. Mama Turtle had had these children before she became arrogant and gotten her shell all broken up. It is these children and all of their descendants who have smooth shells to this day. All the children Turtle had after she got her shell smashed...well, they all look like their mother did; they all have busted shells. That is why some Turtles have smooth shells--smooth because they're descended from Turtle's first children in the "Smooth Shell Days" but that's another story, too!
The Order Of Clans
As for the order of things from the first days, the clans are a very interesting matter--and not without a controversy of opinion on these things, There are those that say the Wind clan are primary and prominent and was the first and the most important clan and you can be sure that the Wind clan believes this entirely but there are others that know things differently.
It may be that the Wind clan are first among peoples now but in the beginning of time it was the animals that were organized into the first clans. Turtle and all of her kin were the very first clan. Turtle was the first to bring the Earth up from beneath the dark waters. And, of course, we know that Alligator, Crocodile and Crawfish, all of those animals that can live in land and water, also each helped individually to bring the land upfor their own kind. Turtle, to many of us, is still the
Birds were the first to work together to help Turtle, so Birds are the first clan of air and the second clan of all beings. With Turtle and Birds, Bear is the first clan given a responsibility for all Beings--that of tending the Fire. It is important to note that Turtle was given responsibility to do something for One Above but Turtle was not given responsibility for all Beings. Birds exercised responsibility for all other Beings but they were not given those responsibilities.
Bear was the first one to be directly given responsibilities for all other Being--and, the first one to louse up that opportunity, too. Bear became the keeper of the Fire. So, Turtle was the first clan, Bird the second clan, and Bear became the third clan.
Then, the tigers or the large cats, became the fourth clan. The fifth clan, we know, were the Deer. They were very swift. In
the beginning they were the messengers and carried word from one clan to another. After Deer clan, One Above called upon Snakes, the silent snakes, to serve as the ears of One Above. Thus, Snakes are the sixth clan; they were the second clan to be given a specific responsibility for all other Beings by Creator.
And so, this is how all the clans came to be, the manner in which they organized. Some were given responsibilities for all other Beings and some took responsibilities upon themselves because they had discovered some service they could perform. And so it went through all of the clans. Now it was said that at one time that there were more than sixty clans and this number was counted by the elders who made marks on the ground and who could then name the clans in order. We, as a people, don't remember all those details now.
Later, after creation and the first times, and after the Turtle's shell was broken and the smooth shell days were gone, people were awakened from whereever it was they were kept when creator made all things. Then the world was once again was in great confusion. It is true that fog then covered all things. As people wandered about, they were very, very lost. It is true that when the Winds began to blow and the Sun could shine and everything could find its own place again, the people who first came into the clearing and realized that the Wind had made the clearing for them to be, spoke to the Wind and said "it is you who have made this clearing and who have helped us to find ourself, from this day we shall count ourself as your sisters and brothers and that is how some people came to be Wind clan and the Wind reached out and said let it be so. The Wind reached around and folded them all together and they became as one. However, as Wind moved the fogs and placed the clouds back in the sky, there were other people who came upon the Bears who were tending the Fire. These people said to the Bears, you were the first Beings that we see, therefore we shall take you for our sisters and our brothers and the Bears said let it be so and the Bears reached out and enfolded them and drew them close to their powerful warmth and this is how the Bear clan came to be. And so it was that as the Earth was cleared each group of people became the sisters and brothers of those things that they first encountered and that is how we were told the clans actually came to be.
The Origin of the Panther Clan
In the long-ago "Smooth Shell Days," before the Turtle's back was broken, and even before there were people moving about on Earth, Creator and all Beings often talked with one another, visited about and spent happy hours together as each and every Being, Animal or Plant, received its first instructions from Creator personally. In this manner each and every Being came to know its own special place and purpose. It was during this time Panther became aware of his own rights and responsibities and received his habits and customs which we know today. The story is told in this manner.
In the first times, Creator had certain animal favorites--among them, the Panther, which we call Kowake Rakko (koh-wahk-kee H'lah-koh) the "Big Cat." This animal is quite beautiful to gaze upon. It moves about with stealth and can crawl low to the ground, Mother Earth, when it hunts. In every way, it is a pleasure to watch and a great teacher by example. Panther would come close to Creator and snuggle up tightly so that Creator could easily reach out and stroke Panther's beautiful soft back. Of course, Panther loved to have its ears scratched, too.
It was Creator's custom to gift each Being, Animal or Plant, with not only original instructions to govern their behavior in life but also to place within each Being a special power unique to that species. "Of all the Cats in your land," spoke Creator, "you are to be the first leader and the first to walk about because you have great Courage, Strength, Patience and Endurance. Your clan will learn the healing powers of certain herbs from you and warriors will study your habits to become great like you."
So saying, Creator reached out to stroke the great Panther and to admire its beauty once more. When Creator touched Panther and its long sleek tail, all these things came to be as spoken. Then, Creator carefully picked up Panther by its wondrously long tail, swung it over the edge of the vault of Sky-Kingdom and dropped it gently into the newly created world. There is to this day, a crook in its tail where Creator swung the cat by the tip of its tail and placed it gently down upon Earth to prowl in the dense fog of that first morning to await the arrival of the Sun and Wind. Now Sun and Wind were Beings who would uncover the shiny new Earth that Turtle had found beneath the Waters and brought up to dry. Soon, the tasks of Sun and Wind were complete, and new Earth could be seen by all.
Later on, Panther came across some freshly dried people, the last Beings to be created. Panther said to them, "Behold, we are related now because I have seen you first and claim you for my own family." In this manner, the Panther Clan came to be. As Creator had spoken, so it also come to be. This is how the Panther Clan began and this is why some members of this clan often serve as healers and keepers of the Great Ceremonies. It is one of the ways in which Creator said things would be done. Now, you know why Panther is special and how it tail got its little kink at the end.
The Fox and the Fry Bread
Like ol' Rabbit and the wily Coyote, Mr. Fox was bad about tricking other animals whenever an opportunity slid into his lap. Now and then, one of those other animals occasionally tricked that Fox. This usually happened when hunger had a good hold on Mr. Fox. Then, it was his stomach that ruled, not his brain. In fact, we heard it like this . . . long before Indians had corn.
One time ol' Mr. Fox happened upon Rabbit sitting on a little hill gazing quietly at a pool of water. Being somewhat hungry and thinking his friend Rabbit (did I say friend?) would make a pleasant little snack, Fox thought he should mosey over and check out the "vittles" situation.
"Whatcha doin' Rabbit?" asked Fox, all famished. Of course, Fox thought to himself what a fool that Rabbit was . . . just sitting there in the open like that.
"I'm looking at that pool. Isn't it beautiful?" Rabbit said to ol' bushy tail.
"Well, I don't see anything special about it," retorted Fox. This Rabbit really is a flake, thought the Fox. He deserves to be eaten and right now, too!
"Naturally, you can't see it yet but soon, tonight, there will be something very special about this pool," Rabbit replied.
"How can that be?" asked a curious Fox--curiosity does cloud one's thinking.
"Well now," Rabbit said, "just tuck up your tail and have a 'sit down' right here; I'll tell you all about it. You know how those Creek women gather acorns each year and make some really good sweet acorn flour--now don't you?"
"Yeah, I've spied upon'em many a time when they go agathering," Fox added.
"Then surely you know those Indian women make the world's best golden yellow acorn bread. They get that acorn flour all ready, sweeten it with wild honey, flatten it out and cook it in succulent bear fat," said Rabbit.
"Hush, furry, you're making me mighty hungry," spoke the red haired Fox.
Rabbit continued--"That bread is the reason tonight is special. You see, all the women got together today and made a very special piece of golden yellow acorn bread--oh, it's so-o-o bi-i-i-i-g! It's an offering, a gift for One Above, the Creator. They're thanking Creator for all the good things Creator has provided everyone--and, they're going to put it in One Above's favorite pool tonight. I heard them talking about it when I was hiding in the garden eating their beans."
"Rabbit, you're not only furry but downright stupid, too, if you expect me to believe that," ol' Mr. Fox answered.
"No, wait, you'll see," Rabbit replied. Just then, the sun went down and night fell quickly. The two sat quietly for a while. Rabbit was contemplating the genius of his own story while that starving Fox was deciding how best to eat his friend, Rabbit. (Did I say friend, again?) Suddenly, Fox was astonished to see something that looked just like a huge piece of golden yellow acorn bread slide into the pool of water. He was amazed!
"Well I'll be--why I never--" The sight of that delicious looking bread--the mere sight of it, nearly caused Fox to faint from hunger. It was the biggest piece of bread in the whole world!
"How can we get it?" yelped the ol' Fox.
"Ah, that is a sacred gift--you don't want to eat that," answered Rabbit.
"Don't be greedy, silly Fox," spoke Rabbit. "Creator might send you trouble instead of bread if you bother that." However, Fox insisted he must have that bread, no matter what. Rabbit got up and took Fox to the pool's edge. My, that was one large piece of bread! Fox could see it clearly on the other side.
"If you insist," Rabbit continued, "I'll tell you how to get it. Just start drinking--it's a small pool, and you'll draw it over to you--just like that!" Then, Rabbit just sat back watching as Fox began lapping the water furiously. It was all Rabbit could do not to burst out laughing. Fox drank and drank and drank . . . and then drank some more.
Finally, the pool shrunk to a very small puddle--Fox's belly grew to an enormous size. Mr. Fox raised his head, bared his teeth to bite the bread and--
Just then, Rabbit tossed a stone into the remaining puddle; the golden yellow acorn bread turned into ripples and rings of light!
Suddenly, Fox realized that he had been tricked by Rabbit and his own hunger into thinking the reflection of the moon was fried golden yellow acorn bread. Old Mr. Fox tried to chase Rabbit but his full belly of water kept him firmly anchored in place. Rabbit merely skipped off a short distance away, sat down and commenced to laugh and laugh . . . then laughed some more.
"If you were not so greedy," said Rabbit, "you would not be in such a predicament now! And, as you were warned, you must suffer for trying to steal One Above's fry bread."
Rabbit laughed and laughed the night away while a bloated and miserable Fox whimpered and moaned 'til dawn. Ever since then (and out of sympathy for their cousin, the Fox), the whole Canine Nation, all dogs, coyotes and wolves howl at each full moon. I wonder why?
[This ancient tale is important because it preserves a glimpse of pre-maize subsistence patterns. It warns listeners about inherent toxic dangers in the vegetable kingdom.]
WHY BLUE JAY HAS SUCH A SCRATCHY VOICE
(or, Why Human Beings Should Learn To Guard Their Words)
Once long ago, as you well know, Blue Jay had no voice. In those days, she was a lazy mean thieving bird. She stole eggs and nests from other birds, she stole food from other birds, she stole anything she could find to steal. Mercy! She even stole her color from the sky! In the First Times..., she had neglected her First Instructions and hadn't gotten her real song. A day came when she began to wish she could sing. So of course, she looked around for some songs to steal. She would have done it, too, except all birds guard their songs very carefully, only letting them out at just the right times. Other wise, they keep them locked up safe in their feathered breasts. Although Blue Jay tried and tried, she couldn't ever catch a song from another bird.
One day, Blue Jay came upon an old Indian who couldn't have been Muskogee! Now this Indian, unlike most, was quite a talker; he never shut up! He chattered away about anything and everything all day and all night whether anyone listened or not. He did not guard his words carefully. He didn't give out his words only when it was best. No, he just threw them out without forethought, just left them lying around everywhere they happened to hit. On this particular day, the day that he met Blue Jay, he was drunk. He was worse than usual--incoherent words flying around everywhere!
That Indian was a'chattering and a'chittering, a'swearing and gossiping--just a'muttering on and on about nothing at all. Words flew out every whichaways. And, that Indian didn't even watch to see where they landed! And do you know what that Bird did? She stole those words. Just picked them out of the air and off the ground from all around that jabbering Indian. After awhile, that man had no words left! (This wasn't a particularly bad thing according to some) Blue Jay took them all and flew away with them.
Now Blue Jay, having never had a voice before, couldn't get a real clear sound out of her throat. She didn't know how! To make matters worse, she found out that she'd stolen the wrong kind of sounds. Human beings' words weren't too much like bird songs. But Blue Jay tried and tried, At last, she came out with a scratchy kind of noise which didn't really sound like much of anything. She kept at it and got a throatful of rasps and screeches and decided that they were better than nothing. And to this day, she still makes the same kind of scratchy noises.
Blue Jay would still like to have sounds that would be a little better than what she's got, whether they were people's words or real birdsongs. She still flies around hoping to find some other chattering human being who doesn't guard words well. And, when she finds a word or two lying untended, she takes them. Some folks are losing their words one by one. At first they're not quite sure what's happening, but if they don't watch out, one day they'll find themselves wordless. Other folks, if that Jay finds them, are going to lose all their words all at once. And won't they be sorry! So--you better hold your tongue and speak only when speech is needed, or Blue Jay will steal your language. Do you happen to remember how it came to be that Blue Jay had no original song? That's another story, too.
(Louise Allen Nix & Gus Allen would tell this story to noisy children to teach them to be quiet.
Its one reason why Creeks use ceremonial speakers--to help them guard their words) The Origin of Bats
In the first times when all things were new, women soon decided they were best at keeping a house and village in order. They knew how to put things in their proper place. ("Proper Place" is a very high Muskogee ideal!) Men were just too careless, too cluttered and too impatient to attend to domestic details. They just weren't concerned about how things should be or even how to find things. Thus it was agreed, men would hunt, fish and break open the big fields. Women would do the final planting and keep the house and village. They understood order. They knew how to do those things best.
One day a young man who could do nothing too terribly well because he was always messy and cluttered, decided to go off hunting by himself. As usual, this particular young man never made good decisions; went off without any shoes we call moccasins. After a little while, the sandy trail turned into a rocky path and his feet were hurting. His wife, mother and sister had all said, "take shoes, take shoes with you!" And of course, these women could all make very beautiful moccasins.
That man, being the kind of man that he was, full of carelessness and clutter, was hurting all over from those sore feet. Finally, he caught a small animal and took off its skin. He thought, "well, I've seen my mother, my sister and my wife make moccasins. How hard can it be? I think I'll make some moccasins." That night, he sat down by the light of his campfire and began to sew together untanned leather pieces and wrap them around his feet. Oh, they were clumsy looking things. As he worked, he threw little pieces of trimmed-off leather over his shoulder into the darkness. The moccasins wouldn't fit and he'd trim off another piece and sew them up again. Over and over, he'd throw away pieces of trimmed leather. He was very messy--very messy indeed!. He just cast away those leather scraps carelessly--cluttering the woods around him.
All of a sudden, something began swirling around his head and swooshing by very fast as he kept cutting off more leather. (They sure weren't moskitoes as they hadn't been created yet--but that's another story.) He never could get those moccasins to fit. When he was finished, he only had two little pieces of leather wedged between his painful toes--AELAH!. They weren't helping his rock sore feet at all. ZOOM! He looked up saw little things flying all around him; they were new Beings to him--they were bats. Those little pieces of leather had become Bats.
Creator, the Maker of All Things, thought this man and all men should be taught a lesson about carelessness and clutter. Thus, One Above turned all the man's little leather scraps into Bats. Because Bats were created in darkness and first flew at night, they have made their homes in dark places ever-since. That's how we got our Bats--how Bats came to be. This is the story as told by our Creek Elders.
How Possum Got Her Pouch
Drawn by Tosh Bibb
One time, Possum was going along visiting, enjoying herself. In those days, Ms. Possum almost always had her children with her. This one time, she put them in a hollow tree and didn't take them around with her. That one day, in the beginning of time
while she was out enjoy herself, taking a little rest from looking after her little Possum babies, she started back home and heard a strange noise, a cluttering going on, a clattering of racket in her little tree house.
She got there, looked up and it was the Bats --Lots of Bats...! The Bats had picked up her little babies and were holding them, dancing around, sporting and having a good time. The poor little Possum babies they were all upset and didn't know what to think. The Bats were just holding them out by their little fore feet, bouncing them up and down and dancing around and around--having a good time laughing and giggling while the poor little Possums were just hurting all over from fear.
Mama Possum was a small little animal who still had her furry tail in these days. She just did not quite know what to do. She tried to chase the Bats away but they just flew off with her babies then they came back and danced right in front of her. Aela, she was very upset. She sat down on the road side and began to cry very badly.*
Soon, Ms. Turtle came along and said, "Why, Miss Possum! What's the trouble? What's the matter with
you?" Mama Possum quickly explained how the Bats had her babies, were playing with them and roughing them up and making great sport--just scaring her babies to death.
Well, the Turtle looked about and said, "Well, we'll sit here awhile and be calm and quite. Soon the Sun will be up and the Bats will be tired. They'll put your little babies down go about their way. Then, we shall fix that problem." "Oh," said the Possum, "How shall we fix that problem?"
Well, pretty soon it began to get light. As the Sun started upon his journey, all the Bats put the little Possums down, left the little babies alone, and went on back to where it is that they spend their daylight hours asleep. Turtle got real busy. She nipped and tucked at Mama Possum's belly, sewed a little stuff here and there, stitched a little stuff over and under and 'round about and soon, she had put a great big pocket on Mama Possum's belly.
Then, Turtle picked up all the little baby Possums, dusted them off and brushed off the dirt and smoothed down their cute little fur and curled their little tails around in a little loop. One by one, she put them all in Mama Possum's pocket and said
to her, "from now on you shall carry your babies in this possum pouch. After that, Bats and the other animals will not bother your babies. I'm glad that I could help you with this matter."
The Mother Possum said to the Turtle, "Thank you very much. You're very slow but wise and your wisdom helps us
all." So that's how the Bats caused the Possum to have a pouch. This is one way the Creek elders tell this story.
The Great Bird, the Red Rat and the Ball Post
A Story from our Ancient Migration from the West
(We have tried to preserve the speaking style of the two old ladies who often told this story)
At one time in the ancient days, when the Muskogee people were coming from the west to the east on their long journey to the Sun's home, they camped at one particular spot for a while. A very large and strange bird would come almost daily. With its bow and arrows, it would kill one of the people and take it off. Now this went on for a long time and it caused much consternation among them. What are we going to do? How are we going to protect ourselves from this great being? And, almost every day this great bird would come and kill someone to take away. They supposed for food for its young but we really do not know why it was occurring.
Finally, they made a large form in the shape of a woman out of reed, vine and cattail. They put thistle blossoms on it as soft hair and made it into a very beautiful structure. They set it up by a tall post where the bird came regularly. After a while, the bird came again. Seeing this wicker form, it took it away and was gone for quite some time. Sometime later, the bird returned and left the form back by the post. Out of it climbed a small red rat. Now the people looked astonished and discussed among themselves, "what is this, we have never seen a small rat of this type and color." So they took council with the rat, supposing the bird to be its father. "Yes the bird was my father" said the rat. The people carefully explained their predicament, their plight. And the rat, not being welcome in the house of its father, said "well I will help you and you will help me." So together they decided a manner in which they could kill this bird.
When next the bird came and landed on the tall post, quietly, quickly the little red rat scurried to the top of the post and swiftly gnawed the string from the bow of the giant bird. Now, the bird could not fire its bow and kill anyone, nor defend itself. The people swiftly killed the large bird and when they did, they burned the bird and noticed that the bones were red on one side and blue on another.
They took note of all these things and even noticed where they had thrown rocks and their spears to kill the bird. They decided to commemorate that event always but they did not want to hurt each other hurling rocks and spears at a tall post. So, a thoughtful old man made two very small leather rocks; and, to them he attached a long, leather cord. "This is the tail of the red rat that scurried to the top of the post to help us kill the great bird that was killing our people. We shall remember the bird and how it was killed with the help of the red rat. And so, this is the origin of the single pole ball game according to some old ones with long memories. It is a game that the people learned during their long migration from the west. This is the game that resulted from them defending themselves from that giant bird. This is also why you see a fish atop some of the ball posts. It is because some birds fish for food for their young and themselves. That giant bird of old came and landed on a fish atop the tall post. Oh, did I fail to mention that the people had put a large fish atop the post to attract the bird to come and see the woman made out of wicker and take her away? This is the origin of the game balls and why we have a little string on those balls. That is the rat's tail to remind us always of the rat's help at a time of need when the people where moving from the west to the east. It also reminds us that at times, even the smallest of creature can be of aid to the larger beings! To this day, our ballgame aprons are always red for one team and blue for the other. This is how some of the old ones have told it to us.
Why Bats Are Classified As Animals
* One time, a long time ago, in the beginning when all the animals were in charge of everything, they decided they were going to have a big ball game on a certain day. The various animals and birds all gathered up out in a big field. It was going to be all the land animals against all the birds of the air. Some of the reptiles were to be the judges--but that's another story about a broken nose! The two teams got their leaders chosen, got their balls and were fixing to play. As you surely know, the bat often sleeps during most of the day. Well, the little groggy bat woke up from all the commotion and came on out; he wanted to play, too.
* The animals said, "You can't play on our team because you fly, you have to play with the birds." The birds said, "Oh no, you can't play on our team because you don't have feathers, you have fur, you have hair just like the animals." The poor bat-- she wanted to play very badly. Finally, the animals relented and said well, you can play on out team but don't get hurt, you're so small you can't do much anyway, just stay out of the way but we'll let you play on our team. Of course the birds were happy about this, they were a smug lot at times.
* Well, the game got started and even though the animals could run very swiftly, and jump very high, the birds kept taking the ball and scoring. And they scored and they scored. Among the birds, the Crane was the most graceful and the strongest flyer. But, the crane is kind of slow you know and the birds would get the ball and the Crane would take it and he would fly to the goal and score. The animals were just loosing very badly. Well finally, the little Bat just jumped up and flew into action. Now as you know, the Bat is very swift and can turn very quickly--can turn on a dime and give eight cents change back. Soon, the Bat had taken the ball away, gone swiftly to the goal and scored. And then the Bat took the ball away again and scored--the Bat repeated this feat over and over. The Bat won the ball game for all the animals.
* Now, the birds were very sorry that they didn't let the bat play on their team and immediately set out the claim the bat as one of their own because it could fly. The animals of course were very happy and claimed the Bat because of its fur. Seemed to be a tie of wills going on. Well, the rat (who) took council among them all, finally and wisely made this little announcement, "even though you can fly like a bird, you have fur--hair like us.....and even though you can fly like a bird you have skin like animals, you cannot be part of both." Just then, the birds said--the Bat is one of us. No, No, all the animals shout, Bat must be one of us. The rat continued after the interruptions. "Well, the bat also has teeth like the animals." The animals took note of this observation by the rat said yes, you have teeth like the animals.
* And so it was agreed on that day that the Bat would always be counted as one of the animals. And now you know how the Creeks classify the Bat. The Bat is an animal because it has teeth.
Articles about the Apalachicola People
Bartram’s Visit to Apalachicola in 1777
William Bartram (1739-1823) was an American naturalist who authored a book called ‘Travels’. He visited the Apalachicola Towns in 1777 and has left the following account of his experiences:
“After a little refreshment at this beautiful town [Yuchi] we repacked and set off again for the Apalachucla town, where we arrived after riding over a level plain, consisting of ancient Indian plantations, a beautiful landscape diversified with groves and lawns.
This is esteemed the mother town or capital of the Creek or Muscogulge confederacy; sacred to peace; no captives are put to death or human blood spilt here. And when a general peace is proposed, deputies from all the towns in the confederacy assemble at this capital, in order to deliberate upon a subject of so high importance for the prosperity of the commonwealth.
And on the contrary the great Coweta town, about twelve miles higher up this river, is called the bloody town, where the Micos, chiefs, and warriors assemble when a general war is proposed; and here captives and state malefactors are put to death.
The time of my continuance here, which was about a week, was employed in excursions round about this settlement. One day the chief trader of Apalachucla obliged me with his company on a walk of about a mile and a half down the river, to view the ruins and site of the ancient Apalachucla; it had been situated on a peninsula formed by a doubling of the river, and indeed appears to have been a very famous capital by the artificial mounds or terraces, and a very populous settlement, from its extent and expansive old fields, stretching beyond the scope of the sight along the low grounds of the river. We viewed the mounds or terraces, on which formerly stood their round house or rotunda and square or areopagus, and a little behind these, on a level height or natural step, above the low grounds, is a vast artificial terrace or four square mound, now seven or eight feet higher than the common surface of the ground; in front of one square or side of this mound adjoins a very extensive oblong square yard or artificial level plain, sunk a little below the common surface, and surrounded with a bank or narrow terrace, formed with the earth thrown out of this yard at the time of its formation; the Creeks or present inhabitants have a tradition that this was the work of the ancients, many ages prior to their arrival and possessing this country.
The old town was evacuated about twenty years ago by the general consent of the inhabitants, on account of its unhealthy situation, owing to the frequent inundations of the great river over the low grounds; and moreover they grew timorous and dejected, apprehending themselves to be haunted and possessed with vengeful spirits, on account of human blood that had been undeservedly spilt in this old town, having been repeatedly warned by apparitions and dreams to leave it.
At the time of their leaving this old town, like the ruin or dispersion of the ancient Babel, the inhabitants separated from each other, forming several bands under the conduct or auspices of the chief of each family or tribe. The greatest number, however, chose to sit down and build the present new Apalachucla town, upon a high bank of the river above the inundations. The other bands pursued different routes, as their inclinations led them, settling villages lower down the river; some continued their migration towards the sea coast, seeking their kindred and countrymen amongst the Lower Creeks in East Florida, where they settled themselves.” (Bartram, Travels, pp. 386-390)
Bartram’s writings also speak of the bloodshed previously discussed in the following excerpt from his same work:
“About fifty or sixty years ago almost all the white traders then in the nation were massacred in this town, whither they had repaired from the different towns, in hopes of an asylum or refuge, in consequence of the alarm, having been timely apprised of the hostile intentions of the Indians by their temporary wives. They all met together in one house, under the avowed protection of the chiefs of the town, waiting the event; but whilst the chiefs were assembled in council, deliberating on ways and means to protect them, the Indians in multitudes surrounded the house and set fire to it; they all, to the number of eighteen or twenty, perished with the house in the flames. The trader showed me the ruins of the house where they were burnt.” (Bartram, Travels, pp. 388-389)
1997 Dallas Morning News Article
On the Ceremonial Grounds at Blountstown
This is a transcription of an article printed in the Religion section of the Dallas Morning News on May 24 1997.
-by Jeffrey Weiss, staff writer of the Dallas Morning News
Blountstown, Fla.-This is a story about a roaring bonfire in the pouring rain. This is the story about a gruesome murder, 10 generations of penance and a modern search for absolution. This is a story about a traditional matriarchy led none the less by a hereditary tribal king who lives in a chicken coop and sends emails into the internet like water through a fire hose. This is a story about Pine Arbor Tribal Town, which-despite the word “Town”- is not a specific place on the map but rather the name o a far-flung spiritual community of people joined by beliefs and rituals sustained from an ancient Native American religion. The group claims no more than a couple of hundred serious members; some live in the Blountstown area, while others are scattered across hundreds of miles. They get together as a group only four times a year at sacred ceremonies, or “Busks”, held in this small town an hours drive west of Tallahassee. Indian blood is not primarily what ties the Pine Arbor people to each other or their history. Sure, many of them claim Creek Indian heritage. Some report blood ties to other American Indian tribes. But others with no known link to Native America are fully accepted members, even leaders of this group. What binds them is the Muscogee Way, a religion and way of life with an archeological record many thousands of years old. Those who travel the Muscogee way-and others who meet them-say they act differently from many in Americas Christian mainstream.
“I know they have something I want” said Iva Tabb, president of the Arts Council of Colquitt, Ga., where residents last year rescued a Pine Arbor Museum after it lost its home in another town. “They have a piece of mind about a lot of things. They have tranquility about a lot of things.” Muscogee way includes beliefs that might seem contradictory to most Americans: All things have two natures. Creator is both all powerful and capable of bungling. Land is simultaneously a physical place and a spiritual symbol. Individuals are important but the community is primary. Pine Arbor followers trace the roots of their faith and history to the people of the long vanished Apalachicola Tribal Town. They say they are the direct heirs to the history of that town and the survivors of disgrace, exile, and persecution. Centuries ago, Apalachicola Tribal Town-located near where the borders of Alabama, Florida, and Georgia now meet- was among the largest of a loose confederacy of mostly autonomous tribal towns. Called “Creek” by the early European explorers and Muscogee by many Indians, the confederacy tied many tribes together. Like many tribal cultures, Muscogee Way was usually passed along through teaching tales. Learn enough tales and you Muscogee Way and the roots of Apalachicola. One of the stories central to understanding was told again last month before the scared fire at the Berry and Arbor Busk. His voice choked with emotion, Charles Daniels, called Sakim, stood on the square ground and recounted-as if fresh-the old details of death and disgrace.
Apalachicola, Sakim said, was a “Peace” town, an official place of refuge under a Creek law that required towns to declare whether they were “red” for war or “white” for peace. The 1760’s were violent times, and one day several white traders and their Creek families took refuge in Apalachicola. That night-with a motive long lost to tradition and history-some young men of the town decided to kill the traders and their families. So they set fire to the house where they were staying. The trapped victims wailed in terror and agony. Frantic mothers tried to pass their babies out the windows, only to watch the men outside impale the children on spears and toss them back inside. Several years later, at the next full meeting of the Creek Confederacy, Apalachicola paid the price. This was-and is-Muscogee Way: The entire community was held responsible for the actions of a few members. And “community” was not so narrowly defines as only those who were alive when the murders happened. Apalachicola was stripped of its status as one of the most important towns of the confederacy. It was forced to be a red town, And its people were forced to retell the story of the disgrace at least once a year at Busk. The sentence for penance; 10 generations. So Sakim recounted the story. Nearby the red marked war post stood at the edge of the square ground mute evidence of long ago shame. The square ground is actually round, marked by a ring of shells more than 100 feet across. In the center burns the fire, a symbol of the sun, which is itself a symbol of the creator.
Set inside the ring at the four points of the compass are arbors where people sit during the Busks. The aroma of sacred smoke, the sound of the birds and the capricious effects of the weather accompany every ceremony. Sakim is Pine Arbors Maker of Medicine-its highest religious leader. He is also its Mekko, translated as King or Chief. Neither Sakim nor his people match what most Americans envision as Indians. Nary could a feathered headdress or buckskin fringe be seen at the Berry Busk, those are traditions of other tribes. “Red” skin was in short supply too. Like most of the people of Pine Arbor, Sakim claims mixed blood. With his white hair and beard, pink cheeks and round belly, he looks more like Santa Claus than the head on a buffalo nickel. But Sakim is the strongest tie between these people and a tribal past. None of the other Busk leaders were raised with this ceremony. Not everyone accepts Pine Arbors authenticity. Some Indian and Academicians say any links to the old ways were recently invented. “Wannabe” Indians are common in Florida they say. “There are a lot of people in Florida referred to as “Thindians”, said J Anthony Parades, an anthropology professor at Florida State University who has studied the Indians of the Southeast, He considers Sakim and Pine Arbor and elaborate fabrication. But others find Pine Arbors claims solid enough to cut with. During the most recent Busk, one woman carefully carried a stoner knife that has been used, the town says, for precisely 986 years but at least one prominent archeologist challenges that dating. Judy Bense, professor at the University of West Florida in Pensacola, literally wrote the book on this topic, Archaeology of the Southeastern United States. Ticking off technical details about materials and styles, Dr Bense pegs the age of Pine Arbors flint blade: It is, she said confidently, “about 6000 years old”.
That means that the knife was made a thousand years before the Egyptian pyramids, that it was crafted about the same time the Mesopotamians invented the wheel. Some of the town’s tales may be as old as the blade. Here is a much abridged version of the Creation story: First As always was Power, impersonal and all pervasive. Then there came an aspect of power known as One Above, also known as Creator, Father Spirit, and maker of breath. Creator decided that all things should be. And they were animals and rocks, birds and trees. But they didn’t have a place and dint know how to act because Creator hadn’t instructed them. You must understand that this was One Above first time at creating. There was no experience’s in these matters”, the story says. Turtle finally complained about being lost in Nothingness. One Above heard and created water, which filled everything. That was fine for turtle, which discovered swimming but not so good for many others. So she (this is a matriarchal society remember), dove and brought up mud. Other animals followed her lead and helped. This is how the dry earth came to be. Do some followers of the Muscogee way literally believe Turtle helped to build the Earth? Did some Christians literally believe a snake talked in Eden? Yes and no, yes and no. Muscogee Way does not include a Judeo-Christian style omniscient Creator.
It does include a belief that individual initiative is important only if done in a larger cause. Success is measured by the effects on the entire town. Turtle is only a hero because everyone else helped. Here is one way that teaching stories play out in every day Muscogee thinking. During most American weddings, the preacher asks those assembled to witness the creation of a new union. During a wedding held at last months at last months Busk, the Maker of Medicine asks the community to approve the marriage. The differences are important, say Pine Arbor people. For most of America, individuals come together to form communities, In Muscogee thought, individuals are parts of communities-the community comes first. Like the Amish or Hassidim, these are a people whose ways are distinct from the mainstream. But the Amish or Hassidim reinforce and protect their differences by living apart, not so Pine Arbor. Yet its people’s distinctive faith continues while they live in the midst of modern mainstream America. ‘This is an eminently practical ceremonial’, says Dan Penton, 50, Senior Archeologists for the architectural firm of Post, Buckley, Schuh, and Jernigan in Tallahassee, Fl. He is also training to become Pine Arbors next Maker of Medicine. “It has survived despite itself because it has kept the critical elements, the meat and potatoes and has discarded the cream sauce and meringues.” Here are stories some Pine Arbor people tell about themselves: Sitting at the kitchen table in hid Blountstown home, Andrew Ramsey is asked where he was born. “Right here”. He means that very room. Mr. Ramsey is the political Ceremonial Chief of the Pine Arbor Tribal Town, sort of a Master of Ceremonies for non-religious meetings. His local roots are among the deepest in this group. The Piggly Wiggly grocery store down the block is the latest incarnation of the family’s general store started by his grandfather in the 1800’s. His uncle and father were Makers of Medicine, he says. Mr. Ramsey is a success story in a community where High School diplomas are unusual.
He is a college graduate with advanced degrees and a former public school principal and administrator. He is also a devout Baptists who finds no contradiction between Muscogee Way and Christianity. Five years ago he was diagnosed with cancer, he says. “Jesus spoke to me just like you are speaking to me now. I almost wrecked my car.” He says quietly. “ He told me that everything was going to be fine.” And he believes that the traditions of the square ground will survive. “ My ancestors performed these things, my grandchildren will believe these things,” he says. Doris Adams is the Matriarch of the Pine Arbor people, ultimately even Sakim’s boss. But it’s hard to imagine this woman who comes across as everyone’s grandma cracking the whip. Mrs. Adams is of Creek descent but was raised thoroughly assimilated into American culture. She says she didn’t seek out her people’s traditional practices until the 1970’s. At that point she discovered she had been brought up in a Muscogee state of mind. “There were things that were handed down” she says “a way of life and speaking and belief.” She lives in Panama City on Florida Gulf Coast and is retired from her job as a laundry supervisor at a local hospital. For most of the year her telephone is her connection to her far-flung people. A few years ago she says, the men brought a dispute to her. A long time pine arbor member thought that Sakim needed an assistant and that it should be him. Sakim disagreed. Mrs. Adams convened a meeting of the women.
They decided that while Sakim may need an assistant, this man was wrong for the job. “Even his own sister agreed” she says. Chris Sewell is aggressively proud of his Indian heritage. For a while he lived out west with members of the American Indian Movement and participated in ceremonies of the western tribes. Eventually he was drawn home to North Florida and his own traditions. His Indian genes express more strongly than do those of many at Pine Arbor. With his broad features and dark complexion, he says he is sometimes mistaken for Hispanic. He has “about 500 cousins around here, most of them are double cousins.” He has been busking in Blountstown for several years. This year in the middle of the Berry Busk, he was surprised by getting his status elevated in the equivalent of a bar mitzvah or confirmation- recognition of his responsible adulthood. To the cheers of the others, he leapt across the sacred fire, symbolizing his rebirth. Essie Hill Syfrett, 79, is Chris Sewell’s mother’s aunt. She is a proud member of a Pentecostal Holiness Church and knows little of Muscogee way, but Mrs. Syfrett remembers being taught two things explicitly about her families’ heritage, pride and fear. “I was taught I was an Indian before anything else,” she says. She also says” Mother taught us to protect ourselves and not to tell anyone we were Indian.” Though she has no childhood memories of Muscogee ceremonies she is clear about why she sometimes attends the Pine Arbor Busk. Last month she sat on the visitor’s bench outside of the sacred shell circle. “I get love” she says” and I feel at home with them”.
Pine Arbor people share the history of many Native Americans throughout the southeast. He is a story told by historians and Indian people throughout the region. Andrew jackson (Pine Arbor literature always spell his name this way) and his troops invaded Florida in 1818. Some Indians were killed. Some of them fled south, Most of the survivors were eventually hauled off to Oklahoma.
And very few- including the ancestors of some of Pine Arbors people-managed to escape the purge and returned later to their homeland. Blountstown is one of several small towns in north Florida and South Georgia where many of the descendents now live. But it was hardly safe to be an Indian in North Florida after the expulsion. Mixed bloods were ordered by law to declare them selves white or head west. Indian could not own property. Their religion was condemned as pagan and godless. They were not citizens until federal law changed in the 1920’s. Some took their traditions underground. Family traditions survived-a feather hung over the doorways, fasting from corn during the spring, even a peculiar arrangement of lawn chairs in the yard-although the exact reason for some rituals were lost. And a few folks still busked. People in Blountstown recount stories from their parents and grandparents about a circuit of four square grounds in north Florida and south Georgia-the remnants of Apalachicola-where a few families still celebrated in the old ways. Dan Penton’s grandfather was one of the Makers of Medicine during those years. Mostly the old participated. One by one they died and took their oral traditions with them. And the stories of what would be pine arbor almost vanished. In many ways the story of Pine Arbor is the story of Sakim: In the years after World War two, the elders could see Muscogee Way faced hard times in North Florida. The elders were dying and their children were assimilating into the new and more open American culture.
Survival depended on a leader who could carry the stories and knowledge through the lean years and into another generation. They selected a teenage with unusual bloodlines, an ear for music and languages and an astonishing memory. (Sakim and others at Pine Arbor would say the fire calls its own and neither he nor the elders had much choice. In any case the young Charles Daniels was chosen) Sakim routinely says outrageous things about himself some of which are unprovable and many of which turn out to be true. “I am mixed blood and of status lineages both native American Indian and European (two royal houses and six families of rogues thieves and murderers!) He explained in an email message,” My great great grandfather two times back was Emperor Brim of the Creeks who ruled from 1689 to 1728. My music teacher was Ernst Von Dohnanyi, who was friends and a people of Liszt and Chopin.” And he says he met Einstein as a kid. And he’s the last person alive who can speak a couple of Indian languages. And he can predict earthquakes, hurricanes and other disasters, natural and unnatural. Members of Pine Arbor attest that Sakim predicted the week that hurricane Andrew would hit South Florida months before. And he predicted the most recent San Francisco earthquake, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. What is important about these prophecies they say is that they show Sakim is in touch with Power. These are some words used to describe Sakim by those who know him and love him: “irascible”, “unfriendly”, “sometimes Id like to pinch his head off”, and “he stretches the imagination, sometimes.” Here is how his biggest distracter describes him, “He is extremely knowledgeable of Creek culture”. And he is obviously respected and loved by the people of Pine Arbor. If he is a fake, he’s not in it for the money. He lives in a small shed behind the home of friends. Once upon a time the shed was a chicken coop.
Now its filled with books magazines, artifacts, a microwave oven, a computer and a wood burning stove. The authenticity of Pine Arbor rests heavily on the shoulders of Sakim. As Dr Parades of Florida State University says if someone declares he is a rabbi and assembles a congregation, they may share real religious experiences, but the temple will not be Jewish. Dr Parades does not believe that Sakim is a Creek trained maker of Medicine. But Robert Trepp a former Policy Analyst with the Creek Nation in Oklahoma has no doubts about Sakim’s authenticity. “His knowledge and understanding can be relied upon.” He said. The Pine Arbor people do rely on Sakim. He identifies herbs for medicine. He counsels the sick and sick of heart, He schools the young in the Creek language and philosophy, He finds people jobs. He plays matchmaker. He labors daily to preserve the community of Pine Arbor. Here is a story of Pine Arbor today and of the Fire in the rain. The square ground has moved twice since the 1970’s; the first time when the property was bulldozed for an expressway and the second time was a split over town leadership. Survival of tradition relies on a qualified Maker of Medicine, and Sakim had tried over the years to train several successors. One turned to crime. One turned to academics. One turned to cancer and later died of cancer. Sakim had all but given up. “I considered just letting the grounds die peacefully of old age-all things do have a season.”
He said. But three years ago he was summoned before the matriarch and commanded to start training Mr. Penton. About the same time he started hosting a Thursday night Muscogee equivalent of a bible study, at a Tallahassee Chinese restaurant. Those discussions are taped and transcribed and add to a growing permanent record of what had been a wholly oral culture. Attendance is up at Busks. Young people, children and teenagers, are learning the old stories and rituals. Even a few adults’ who fell away in decades past are making their way back. Around the late night fire last month, stories were told of the beings of the Creek netherworld: foul smelling Long Dog, Four sizes of Little People who are fond of strawberries, Booger men who steal health and breath. Do the people of Pine Arbor literally believe in these spirit beings? Do other Americans literally believe in angels? Yes and no, yes and no. One hot topic around the Busk fire has been the search for absolution from some Creek authority- the end of the sentence from the old massacre. By Pine Arbors reckoning, this is the twelfth generation since Apalachicola Town was sentenced. The old confederacy is long dead, so where to go for recognition, The Creek Nation in Oklahoma, Seminole Tribal leaders in Florida or out west? Like all major Muscogee celebrations, the Berry Busk has an agricultural theme. Berry is for the Spring. “Winters back is broken!” Crops are being planted and One Above must be thanked for abundant rain. One Above offered much reason for thanks this year. During last months Busk, fast moving waves of squall lines-the sort associated with flash flooding-swept across the grounds, the ceremonies continued almost without interruption. A visitor asked one of the men if there was any concern the rain would extinguish the sacred fire burning in the open. “Not this Fire” was the answer, “this fire never goes out!”
An excerpt of Andrew Ramsey’s Narrative in “Voices of the Apalachicola”; Compiled and Edited by Faith Eidse in 2006
Creek Chief Ramsey: Walking Softly in Two Worlds
Chief Andrew Boggs Ramsey is large, well over 6 feet tall. He wears glasses and has a Ph.D. in education. Chief in one culture, educator in another, he nonetheless walks softly in two worlds. His name appears on a bilingual Muskogee-Creek/English historical marker at the Blountstown Courthouse as the last in an unbroken line of titled chiefs. Born in 1932, he is a direct descendant of the original permanent settlers of Blountstown—Creeks forced out of Alabama by wars in 1810.
A former reigning matriarch married to the tribal chief, Polly Parot was his great-great-great-grandmother. Ramsey prepared adults for General Education Development exams; served as an elementary school principal for eight years; earned a Ph.D. in 1970; and was promoted to the Calhoun County office as teacher trainer and project planner. His project plan was one of only seven funded in the state. Chief Dr. Andrew told his story on May 24, 2001, at his ancestral home on Blountstown’s Central Avenue.
“My grandfather never wore shoes, but he always had that pair of new shoes. He’d get dressed and pick up his pair of new shoes, take them to the store, put ’em on the shelf. Wagons would just go through the back of [that trading post], and they would load there. When he left that night, he’d pickup his shoes [and] walk home barefoot. Indian people didn’t wear shoes,” Ramsey said simply, though his grandfather apparently didn’t want to be judged for lacking them. “The big house used to be right here in front of this one. It burned in1938.”
Ramsey presented a map with a large communal house on what is now his front yard. “Yeah, the big house had a room in the middle of it that would [sleep] two hundred people. I was born there, and my mother was born there. “That little brick house [in the front yard] is my grandmother’s. And when they rebuilt, she still lived outside. She never did move in and live inside, ’cept for sleepin’. She cooked outside, she sat outside, she did all of her work outside. Everything was outside. “You’re right in the middle of a [former] Indian village. When they put this road through, they cut it right in half.
“At that time it was Blunt-em-tvlofa. Blunt—his—town. The . . . Muskogee alphabet’s sounds are different [t is d, c is j]. Moravian missionaries put it into writing, and so we use the [same] letter symbols [as] in English, but they have different sounds.” Ramsey, and I’m Wind Clan. My wife is Bird Clan.” He added in English: “all our children are Bird Clan. See, we’re a matriarchal society, and you get your clan from your mother. Our grandchildren, they’re their mother’s clan. I have one set of grandchildren that are Deer Clan and one set that are Snake Clan. “It’s incest to marry into your own clan. So when you see a pretty girl, you ask her what [her] clan is, and if she says ‘Wind,’ you just walk on. She says ‘Bird,’”—the chief nudged his wife—”you get busy. “Your father’s people’re not kin to you, really. See, your father rears his sister’s children. I was taught how to fish by my mother’s brothers. In fact , my Uncle Bert was medicine man at Pigpen Square—that’s a religious square.
And that’s almost at old Horse town about five minutes by canoe down the river. It was all on the Apalachicola Reservation. But the river changed course, and that put Horse town on Old River. And that created an island called Fanning Island between Old River and where the new channel was.” Ramsey selected a copy of the 1831 J. D. Clements Survey of Blunt’s and Tuskigee’s Reservation. “Here’s Fanning Island right here. This was the Clements survey when they sold the reservation, but they didn’t remove. All these people were gone by 1838. Tuskie Haco [also Tuski hajo] died in 1832. Haco [is] a title that means ‘Zealous Warrior’ or ‘Crazy Warrior.’
“ My ancestors lived at Cochrane town here,” Ramsey continued. “And you see it’s right on the edge of the reservation? They wanted all the Indians on that reservation—and they used his house to make sure it was on the reservation.“ You know, when they sold this reservation,” Ramsey added, “the Polly Parot band, or the Bogot people—Bogot means place of last refuge; last people and their last refuge. They went to Boggs Pond, which is on the other side of the Chipola River, right inside Jackson County.
And this band hid out there. The reason why it came back: timber. They opened this country to timber. “There’s still a group of Creek Indians that live unto themselves in Jackson County,” said Wisa, “and they do not associate with other Creeks or the whites. Except whatever they have to do to earn a living or buy groceries.”
“And the McClellans, which were war Indians from Mossy Head in Walton County, moved here, and then this became an Indian town, and their daughter married my granddaddy, and that’s how the Apalachicolas got back to Blountstown. “Polly Parot and them did not go [West]. Polly Parot was a bought wife. But you could only have a second wife with permission of your principal wife, and [Tuskie Haco’s] principal wife was old Chief Blount’s sister. Wives that were bought were lower social standing. So why would they live out there [in Texas] to [be ill-treated]? “The only way Polly is mentioned in the archives is that when the Seminoles captured John Blount’s wife and children, Polly was with him.
They found out she was from Horse town [and] let her go, but they killed Blount’s wife and children. “Now, why did they let [her] go? Because we are really the Miccosukee clan that was left behind. My great-great-grandmother [Mary Musgroove] was Miccosukee, and Andrew Jackson destroyed Miccosukee in 1817. And they fled over [here]. And she married John Boggs. He was born here in1810. “This was hunting grounds back then. The first permanent [Creek] settlement here was 1815. The result of that being a refuge town [was that] when they found out she was from Horse town they let her go.”
Chief Ramsey presented copies of census papers. “My great-grandfather was born here in 1840 [and] died in 1917. [The form] said: ‘Who was your father?’ ‘John Boggs.’ They weren’t schooled, and they didn’t speak English. So down here when it said, ‘Who was his mother?’ he thought they were talking about his daddy’s mother, so my great-great-great-grandmother Polly Parot’s name is on that death certificate. “The river was the lifeline and the highway. And you know where Montgomery, Alabama, is today? That’s where the Apalachicolas originally came from. And the Indian town there was Tukabahtchee. The Apalachicolas were chased out of their homes. “There was a little town outside of Tukabahtchee called Peach Tree.
Dalofa Bagana. And when they moved to Texas, they called them the Bagana Muskogees. [In Texas it’s] the Alabama Cosetta Reservation. One of them married a Frenchman, and he moved the whole group out on that ranch. “The reason why [Chief Blount] went to the Alabama Cosetta Reservation to start with is that Red Shoes, chief of the Alabama Cosetta, was John Blount’s uncle. But their dialect was so different they didn’t understand each other.“
Most of the Seminoles down south, except for those around Okeechobee, are Hitchiti people, and they don’t even speak Muskogee; they speak Miccosukee. Miccosukee is a Hitchiti language. You take verbs and you make nouns out of them,” Ramsey explained. “Like ‘Wewahitchka.’ ‘Wewa’ is the Apalachicola name for water. ‘Hitch’ is ‘see.’ ‘Ka’ makes place. So it’s a place where you see water. “They call it ‘Stiff-n-ugly’ right there in Liberty County, but it’s ‘este-een funga.’‘Este’ is ‘person’; and ‘een’ is ‘his’ or ‘her’; ‘funga’ is ‘skeleton.’ ‘Ga’ on the end makes that a place, a place where human bones were found. Ramsey touched the shell medallions around his neck. “These are the Muskogee nation in Florida. [It] has one renowned artist [Dan Townsend in Crawfordville].
And these are old Creek designs out of Lake Jackson mounds. Mangazeit,”he said, referring to a carved humming bird. Patchwork is sewn with diamond shapes for Seminoles, rounded shapes for Creeks. A photo showed Ramsey in head dress and blue and red patchwork outfit. “That’s kind of a pow-wow type thing, which is white in origin. We don’t use drums. Creek dancing is what you call stomp. And it’s always [with] singing.”“[Wisa’s] family lived on the Aucilla River when the white people burned it,” Ramsey said. “They didn’t keep up with their history like we did Florida passed a law saying the only way you could live here as an Indian was to live as white people. “Now my great-grandfather on my daddy’s side, name was Letga Hajo [Letkv Haco]. And when they had to make livings, he just picked out of the air ‘Honest John Ramsey’ and started a rolling store, on a wagon. A lot of Indians say, ‘You can’t use Ramsey; that’s not Indian.’ But the name Ramsey here means Haco.
In my Indian society, I’ll introduce myself as ‘Ndola [Vntold] Haco.’ ‘Ndola’ means Andrew.” Indians did not achieve civil rights until 1964, Ramsey said. “Essentially right out here, my grandfather established [Boggs Cemetery] so Indians would have a place to be buried. There’s a lot of white people in it now. The white cemetery was up at Meadow Ridge. “Indians were slaves too. Did you know that when they first imported slaves into this country, they had Indians in slavery already? “Now, going back to the river—Leedja Hajo’s wife was named Cedar Woman. The Creeks had fertility people, and she was that person. Cedar tea was a fertility drink. And there used to be a lily that grew on the Apalachicola River that she made into a tea and that would keep you from getting pregnant. It doesn’t grow around here anymore.
“Wisa had tumors, and the doctor told her she most likely would never have any children. And we came home [from] school [where we taught]—and Wisa had the cramps. And my grandmother [Boggs] said, ‘I can stop those cramps.’ And she steeped a tea out of cedar bark, and those cramps went away just like that.“ And Wisa said, ‘Thank you, Granny. That’s the most wonderful drink I ever took.’ [Grandmother] laughed, and she said: ‘I don’t know if you’re gonna think it’s so wonderful. You’re gonna be pregnant in four to six weeks.’ And Wisa laughed and said, ‘Granny, the doctor said I can’t have any children.’ In four weeks, we were expecting our first child.” Wisa added, “That’s his picture up at the top on the wall.” Two more sons followed; the youngest would commit suicide at age thirty-four, tortured by alienation and the pain of not belonging perfectly anywhere. “The biggest tragedy of the modern-day Indian is suicide,” said Ramsey.
“My wife’s granddaddy committed suicide, and my wife’s daddy committed
suicide, and then we had our son commit suicide. It seems that people don’t realize how bad depression can be and especially if you don’t fit in your [culture].I had two uncles that ruined themselves with alcohol, so I suffered from that; saw my grandmother suffer from it. And obesity. You look, I’m suffering from obesity and diabetes. We all have diabetes. We call it the beginning of death. In the olden times, we went through periods of starvation, and so Indian people’s metabolism is more efficient than Nordic metabolism. So it really takes less food for us. “We live in two cultures,” Ramsey added. “When we’re around white people, we live white culture; when we’re around Indian people, we live Indian culture. Partly the two cultures don’t overlap. They’re too separate. “When I was a boy, my grandmothers used to meet—and each would carry a piece of wood. Because you always had a fire.
It could be 100 degrees and you’d have a fire. ’Cause you had your coffeepot and your [food].“Most [living, quilting, meeting] was outside,” Ramsey said. “It’s just according to how much Indian you have in you; what part of you lived more a white lifestyle and Indian lifestyle. “The Seminole chairman is trying to help uswith federalization,” Ramsey added, explaining that he wants the tribe recognized to receive federal subsidies. “The Creeks are not federalized in north Florida, though they are recognized. I’ve been working on this for twenty-three years. It’s slow. There’s a lack of unity.” Andrew was grand marshal in the 1995 Springtime Tallahassee parade, where he was assailed by those protesting the prominent figure dressed as Andrew Jackson accompanying him in the parade.
“That’s the first time I knew what it was like to be called a name,” said Ramsey sadly. Yet he has sixteen Florida pioneer certificates. “If you had ancestors that lived in Florida before it became a state, then you could get a Florida pioneer certificate. All [twenty] of my ancestors were born and reared and died in Florida. “That’s a picture of the square ground,” Ramsey added, selecting a picture of a cleared square of ground with benches on four sides, shaded by thatched roofs. “We have a four-arbor town. That’s me; the chief and head people sit in the west. That’s the west arbor. And the east arbor, you have the women, children, and visitors. And then all the old warriors are in the north, and the young warriors are in the south.”
When Shaman Charles Daniels-Sakim established Pine Arbor Square Grounds, Ramsey added, “it was very similar to what I remembered [from boyhood], except we always kept a pot of the black drink there. And it’s really for our time of purification. It’s made out of evergreen yaupon leaves, and it’s really high in caffeine.“ Tribes from the interior traveled to the river each spring to partake of this tonic. It grows wild here. The children gather the leaves, [and] you parch[them].
“Sakim is a maker of medicine,” Ramsey added, indicating a bottle of colored liquid. “It’s a redbone. It’s really good for arthritis. It was made from the medicine plant. There isn’t anyone in the United States that has more knowledge than Sakim. You can believe him. “But our cultures, until the civil rights law, you know—you really kept them separate. I was the first in the state that listed Indian in the position of supervisor. I was training teachers here in Calhoun County. “I started wearing shoes and underwear at twelve,” Ramsey added. “I mean, I had a pair of Sunday school shoes. But we always went barefoot. I could walk on a hot pavement in midsummer and not feel it. Now I can hardly walk across the floor over the rug.
“After I got my [Ph.D.], I bagged groceries and I served gas. I worked at the Piggly Wiggly for sixty-four years. And you know how I got my first [professional] job? One of [my customers] that worked for the superintendent said, ‘They’re closing down the Calhoun Adult School today.’ And I said, ‘If I get me up a class will you all maybe not close it down and let me have a job?’ The superintendent said, ‘If you have a class load of people there, and you keep them, then you can have that job.’“
So the next night I had all my kinfolk there, and they stayed for six months.
[No one else wanted] ‘an old Indian teaching my child.’ I had to
have a higher degree than most people to get a job, to get promotions.
“My grandmother never went to school. Indian people weren’t allowed to go to school back then. My grandfather was smart enough that he taught himself to read and write English. And then he taught her to read and write English.
“The Indian religion is positive. You take what is, and you make something good out of it. You don’t hold a grudge; you don’t lose your temper. Ifyou upset anything, you go to the quicken post and you beat the post andyou throw it in the fire and you forgive. And according to the old Creek religion, unlimited. And so when you find that people have any big, bad grudges, you know right off the bat that they were not reared Indian.”Wisa—which means “sassafras”—called Ramsey and me to a lunch of chicken, boiled potatoes, corn, and okra. Chief Ramsey sang a prayer in Muskogee that seemed to unite religious traditions: “Our creator who lives above all things, but you’re everywhere all the time; our creator, you made the earth and everything that we need on it. We thank you for this food. In Jesus Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
“See, all my great uncles were killed,” Ramsey said, passing the chicken.“ The last ones were killed at Sweetwater Creek over in Liberty County ’cause Liberty County was the empty spot, and they were workin’ themselves south. And if you go to Sycamore, just north of Bristol—there’s a grave in the back of the cemetery says, ‘These are the last three people killed by Creek Indians. ’And I don’t know for sure, but [those Creeks were] prob’ly the Haco people coming down. But that was the time of the war when people are trying to’spel [expel] you from your home. “My first memory,” Ramsey said, “was crawling on [Granny’s shoulders].Mother would drop them off at [her friend] Rena’s house, and you would have to walk 4 or 5 miles to get where they fished in the swamp. And I’d crawl up on her shoulders. And they’d come across a slough [and] just wade right on through. And I can still see Granny’s nose just above the water and me on her shoulders. And we’d fish, and my job was to clean [fish]. No matter how young you were, Creek children had responsibilities. And they’d always carry cheesecloth with coffee in it. I’d just dip the water out of the river or sloughs, right here off the Apalachicola River. I wouldn’t do it today,” Ramsey added. “And then we’d wash the fish in river water,” Ramsey laughed. “I wouldn’t wash fish in river water now.”
“And the last time those two women went fishing, I carried [Granny] in piggyback. She was eighty-one when she died,” Ramsey added. “She converted to Christian Science. Christian Science and Creek has a lot alike. Mind over body. But it killed her because she was diabetic. “We always caught a lot of fish,” Ramsey added. “Like during December, January, February, and March is when red horse suckers ran. And you’d fence in part of the creek, and then you’d go gig ’em out and slash those bones. And then sometimes at the old square ground at Creek Bend they would net gar fish, but they wouldn’t scale them. They would cut them open and take the entrails out. They would start a smoldering fire, and then they’d put those gar fish and cover [them] with leaves and dirt. After a pretty good while, they would dig ’em up, and they’d use the scales as a bowl, and they would dip the meat out.
“I have some jewelry that have gar fish scales, and they give you power. They used them most on jewelry and to cut with; they’re real sharp. As a warrior, you had to have something like gar fish scales. “My first job in the grocery store was to keep the pigs and the cows out of the grocery store. I was six,” Ramsey said. “When I was a boy, pigs and cows roamed down the street. [Not] until Fuller Warren, you know, became governor in ’48 did he outlaw animals from roaming on the road. Going to Tallahassee, you stopped fifteen times to get the cows out of the road “There was a big change from the time I was little. You had a ferry that crossed this river, and it’d take you about an hour and a half to get to Bristol. You’d go down to the landing, and you’d wait for the ferry, and then it would hold three cars. The road from there to Bristol was just a rut for each tire. So if you got all the way to Bristol and you met a car, one of you was going to have to back up for a mile. “I should be embarrassed to tell this. I was in the honor society. And you know Maclay Gardens [Tallahassee]? Miss Maclay invited us over, and she served hot water with tea bags. We had never seen a tea bag in our lives.
“A cousin whispered, ‘I bet you tear that tea bag open.’ So everybody tore their tea bag open, and Ms. Maclay came: ‘Oh, my goodness, I must have bought a box of defective tea bags.’ “She was a short Scottish woman, and she was not a little woman, and she said, ‘Let me give you another one and you just put it in the cup, and it’ll suck out.’ “Listen, I misspelled one word in my school career,” said Ramsey, “and that was ‘separate.’
I was in third grade, and I just cried. Even when my mother went to school, [taught by] a Cherokee Indian, now, they swept all the schools in Calhoun County free of Creek Indians and sent ’em to the black school. Except for my granddaddy’s children—my mother and them—because my granddaddy cashed [teachers’ pay] vouchers. “When you’re in the minority like that, it’s important for you to do better. But even then, when I was in school here, your worst group of students was your Creek Indian students. That was the worst-achieving group,” Ramsey said.
“It’s because the values were different. They’re not used to sitting still in a restricted [space], and one of the things I had to learn to do was to have high eye contact. In our culture, it was an insult to even look anybody right straight in the eye. “I have white characteristics; I could adapt to white society, but none of my three children could. Creek Indian people are not very talkative. When you first meet Indian people you say, ‘Those are the most unfriendly people I’ve ever seen.’ They take being silent for being sullen.
“But the river was a highway, and it was a place where you got food. Indian people would travel great distances at times, but they would travel sofar, and they would stay there a month or so. Because Polly Parot’s husband, John Boggs Jr., was Cherokee. They were on the Tahlequah Land Payments [Oklahoma]. So they had to be up there sometime, even though she was Creek.“When I was growing, we were isolated here. I mean, we had nowhere to go. In fact, we all look alike. Of the Miccosukee group that was left behind, there’s only about forty of us. We have a lot more kinfolks than that, but a lot of people don’t want to be Indian. That’s the reason why Indian populations are shrinking so, and it’s because they marry white, and the children get lighter, and they want to be white. ’Cause all the important people are white.
And you want to be part of what’s important. “I belong to the church I was born into, which is the First Baptist here.
But I am a Square Ground Creek too. I attend all the religious ceremonies out at the square. You have a lead singer, and the ones following it are the chorus, and that’s part of the stomp dancing.“ Usually you start off around the fire; the fire is like an altar in the church. A lot of people think Creek worship fire, but they don’t. But the [mound]
out here begins with the bird world. See, you have different levels scattered
And this is the only mound out here that has a Bible in it. Yes,
my grandmother’s Bible. Sakim thought it was important for me to have it in. “And that fire is continuous. It never goes out. You take that fire with you in a lantern, and you have a fire keeper, and then he lights the next fire.
“My minia (grandmother) out here and my anida [great-grandmother], they used to attend a square ground at Boggs Pond [west of the Chipola River in Jackson County]. People would come in at Boggs Pond and stay two months in the fall, and that ended up with Harvest Busk. They’d gather the [wild Spanish] cows up and the hogs out of the woods, and they’d cure the beef jerky and cure that pork, and my granddaddy would divide it out among the different families.
“Creek Indian women do all the work. Those men get out and gather [game] up, and they would kill it. Then the women would take over. The women would skin it and everything else. And there’d be one group that’d go down to Port St. Joe and stay a month getting a year’s supply of salt. And it’d take a week getting to Port St. Joe; wagon and walking. “And they took muck out of the bottom of Boggs Pond and spread it over
that sand, to be able to grow anything. Those are sand ridges on that side of Chipola River.
“When they dredged the river, they blocked those [fishing] sloughs. So where we used to fish, you can’t even fish anymore. [The sand] filled them up. And that’s where a lot of the fish beds were. And now there’re no fish down here ’cause ’bout the time the fish get on a bed, the water drops out and leaves all the beds. We’ve not had good fishing since that dam went in [at] Chattahoochee. They have wonderful fishing behind the dam, but they ruined all of it down here. You have to work at it,” Ramsey said. “I love to fish.
“I like big fish, and it takes eight big fish for me and my wife, and I have to spend all afternoon catching [them]. I put the rest back. But you have to be real careful; you have to wet your hands. We never heard of this disease when I was young, but now they have a fungus that will attack those scales and make sores on the fish. And I’ve caught warmouths with sores that big around.” The size of a saucer. “And when you touch them with dry hands, it[disrupts] the slime, and that disease can get ’em. You had that same thing up the river about two years ago—where they were catching fish with sores on them. It always happens sometime when the water was very low and stagnant.
“When I was a boy, I’d never think about trying to walk across the Apalachicola, and in recent years, it’s been so dry you could walk across. It’s awfully hard down here for any of the natural systems to keep going. “Why does [Atlanta] want to get so large? I never have decided that. I’ve always ranged chickens. But I’ve put a few chickens in a pen. They just get along so well and lay and everything. But I don’t crowd that pen, or they’d
start eating each other, and I feel that’s the way people are.
Everybody has to have a certain amount of space. “All this land used to be open. You could go hunting anywhere you wanted to. You could go fishing anywhere you wanted to. But now somebody from Ohio comes here and they buy land; the first thing they do is put a fence as high as this house and just dare you to put one toe in it.
And hunting clubs rent all this river land, and you can’t even hunt or get into the river except for public ramps. I grew up with the forest being everybody’s, the river being everybody’s. “And I don’t believe in gambling. I think there’re too many other things that Indian people could go into to make money. You don’t see the reservations putting up grocery stores; they have Safeway or Krogers come in.” Chief Ramsey led me past two larger-than-life paintings of himself, first in Muskogee, then in Miccosukee ceremonial dress, as he ushered me out to the bird yard. Chickens clucked in a roomy pen; geese, peacocks, and a large black swan ranged under hanging baskets of vibrant pink and purple impatiens. There was no person better suited to welcome me to this basin that had once been everybody’s.
An excerpt of Andrew Ramsey’s Narrative
“Voices of the Apalachicola”, Compiled and Edited by Faith Eidse